Thursday, May 23, 2013

Congress Debates NASA Asteroid Mission--or Back to the Moon?

Date: 22 May 2013 Time: 05:52 AM ET

Asteroid Capturing Spacecraft Concept
A notional concept of a solar-electric-powered spacecraft, designed to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and relocate it safely close to the Earth-moon system so astronauts can explore it.

NASA's plan to lasso an asteroid for astronauts as a deep-space dry run for a future mission to Mars has some members of Congress wondering if the space agency would be better off setting its sights on the moon instead.

The asteroid mission was announced when President Barack Obama unveiled his 2014 NASA budget request. The scheme would have NASA use a robotic spacecraft to capture a roughly 23-foot-wide (7 meters) asteroid in deep space, and redirect it to an orbit closer to the moon. Once there, NASA would launch a human mission to rendezvous with the space rock and explore it.

But members of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee expressed their skepticism of the plan during a hearing Tuesday to discuss NASA's ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars. The asteroid mission was proposed as an initial step toward that goal — one that would test technologies needed for a Mars mission and allow crews to gain experience in deep space exploration.

Yet lawmakers questioned the mission's technical plan, budget and schedule. "I am not convinced this mission is the right way to go, and that it may actually become a detour for a Mars mission," said Rep. Steven Palazzo (R., Miss.).

Some members of Congress favored sending astronauts back to the moon instead.

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