Many have lamented the seeming decline of the US space program. While we're not expecting an immediate return to the halcyon days, the President's proposed federal budget for fiscal 2014 could see some renewed ambition. NASA's slice of the pie includes a plan that would improve detection of near-Earth asteroids, send a solar-powered robot ship (like the NASA concept above) to capture one of the space rocks and tow it back to a stable orbit near Earth, where researchers could study it up close. The agency would have humans setting foot on the asteroid by 2025, or even as soon as 2021. It's a grand goal to say the least, but we'd potentially learn more about solar propulsion and defenses against asteroid collisions.
If NASA's plans mostly involve the future, the US Air Force budget is looking into the past. It's setting aside $35 million for a long-discussed resurrection of the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite, also known as DSCOVR -- a vehicle that was scuppered in 2001 due to cost overruns, among other factors. Run by NOAA once aloft, the modernized satellite would focus on warning the Earth about incoming solar winds. That's just one of the satellite's original missions, but the November 2014 launch target is relatively realistic -- and we'll need it when the satellite currently fulfilling the role is overdue for a replacement.
NASA Associate Administrator Statements on the Asteroid Initiative in the FY 2014 Budget Request
WASHINGTON -- The following are statements from the associate administrators of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Science Mission Directorate and Space Technology Mission Directorate on the administration's budget request for the 2014 fiscal year.
From Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier:
"The mission to find, capture and redirect an asteroid robotically, and then visit it with astronauts to study it and return samples takes advantage of expertise across all of NASA in an integrated approach to exploration. Along with the scientific research and technology demonstrations happening around the clock on the International Space Station that are teaching us how humans can live and work in space, this mission will give us valuable experience we need in deep space operations to send humans to more distant destinations in the solar system, including Mars. Through the balance of this fiscal year, we will work to define an affordable mission architecture. In Fiscal Year 2014, NASA will begin developing and testing prototype capture mechanisms and concepts for crew interactions with the asteroid."
From Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld:
"The crucial first step in this endeavor is to enhance our ongoing efforts to identify and characterize near-Earth objects for scientific investigation and to find potentially hazardous asteroids and targets appropriate for capture. The capture mission will be a highly visible and significant collaboration of robotic and human exploration in translunar space."
From Associate Administrator for Space Technology Michael Gazarik:
"This mission accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered solar electric propulsion. The ambitious mission to rendezvous, capture and redirect a small asteroid to Earth-moon space could not be accomplished without solar electric propulsion technology. This technology also will support the commercial telecommunications and satellite industries, and is an essential step toward future NASA human and robotic exploration forays into deep space."
The NASA budget and supporting information are available at: