Nasa is planning a manned mission to an asteroid in a real life version of the Hollywood movie Armageddon. They are considering sending astronauts aboard a new spacecraft currently being designed to fly to the Moon.
Experts say the spacemen will rendezvous with one of the so-called Near Earth Objects – asteroids which threaten us over the long term because their orbits cross our own.
The mission will help astronauts adapt to lengthy spaceflights and to master techniques to deal with any killer asteroids which may one day be found to be on course for impact. The flight, which could last up to 90 days, looks set to happen before Nasa crews return to the lunar surface in 2018.
The space agency is currently working on building a set of rocket hardware called Constellation to fulfil President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. It includes a modern version of the old Apollo command capsule called Orion to ferry the astronauts through space.
Astronauts, engineers and scientists at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre at Houston, Texas, are evaluating the asteroid mission, according to the website Space.com. Constellation scientist Chris McKay tells the site: “A human mission to a Near Earth Asteroid would be scientifically worthwhile. It could be part of an overall program of understanding these objects and the threat they pose to the Earth.”
He adds: “The public wants us to have mastered the problem of dealing with asteroids. So being able to have astronauts go out there and sort of poke one with a stick would be scientifically valuable as well as demonstrate human capabilities.”
Former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who campaigns for more action to be taken to deal with the asteroid threat, adds: “It’s a terrific mission if we can do it.”
No target has yet been picked for the manned mission. More than 800 asteroids are already known that come close enough to us in their orbits to pose an impact threat.
The picture is a montage by Skymania from Nasa images.