NASA is considering an ambitious new proposal, that would include capturing a near Earth asteroid, and moving it to a suitable orbit for further study.
President Obama announced the initiative in April, but scientific skeptics are making their voices heard.
Arizona State University planetary scientist Jim Bell, PhD, was among a group of scientists invited to Washington, in July, to participate in a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, to discuss the feasibility of the project with NASA leadership.
The mission cost, the development of the technology necessary to capture the asteroid, and actually locating a suitable asteroid for retrieval, are all elements that make this proposal difficult, but not impossible, according to Bell.
"It's a mix of skepticism and excitement," says Bell. "The costs are not well defined, there are technologies that have to be developed to make this happen."
The proposal calls for a robotic capsule powered by solar panels to deploy, what is essentially a large bag that would collect an asteroid roughly twenty feet in diameter.
The small spacecraft would then tow the asteroid into a different orbit around the moon, for future astronauts to travel to and study.
Scientists have identified and charted around 10,000 asteroids. Of those, only 370 are small enough to fit within the parameters of this project. However, only 14 of those travel in an orbit suitable to work with.
"It's very challenging. There are several survey programs going on with telescopes, including telescopes here in Arizona looking for these objects in the sky and starting to find more and more of them over time but finding the exact right one is going to be a challenge," said Bell.
The estimated cost for the project ranges between $1 and $2.5 billion dollars.
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