So NASA is up to some interesting speculation lately following a study put together by the Keck Institute for Space Studies. They’ve figured out that it may be possible to send an automated craft out into near-space and, by using a giant bag, grab up a small asteroid. The prize would then be towed back and placed into orbit around the moon where it would be conveniently close enough for scientists to study. All-in-all, if the project were to go through, it would take around 10 years for the entire process.
So what can be learned by wrangling an asteroid and bringing it home? Researchers are hoping to understand more about how to prepare for the coming era of asteroid mining. They also want to see if there’s anything within the asteroid that they could potentially use as resources, either for construction or in the refueling of spacecraft. Their desire is to be able to use asteroids throughout space as either landing pads or fueling stations during longer exploration and mining missions. They also want to see if studying the asteroid will provide any clues as to how we might fend off a rogue asteroid that threatens to collide into the Earth.
If the plan is approved, it will most likely start up sometime in the 2020s and will carry a not-so-modest price tag of more than two-and-a-half billion dollars. Until then, they would be looking for a good candidate asteroid. Since it’s still in the early developmental stages, there’s no telling whether NASA will really get around to it or not, but it would certainly be an interesting feat if they could pull it off.
Still, it brings to light the question of whether having floating rocks orbiting the moon is entirely safe. If mining companies use this technique to make resource extracting easier, there could be all sorts of crazy stuff hanging around the moon. We could very well pelt ourselves with an asteroid on accident. But if successful, it could be a huge leap forward in our capacity as a species to get further into the depths of both known and unknown space.