Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is suggesting that asteroids could serve as stepping-stones for astronauts to travel through space to reach Mars. Tagged as the “ultimate human destination” by NASA, the Red Planet has been a distant, untouched goal thus far.
NASA, in an effort to reach the destination by 2030, is currently looking for ways to implement The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) by 2025. The ARM will involve the use of a robotic probe that will drag asteroids or boulder-sized rocks into the lunar orbit. Once the asteroid is stabilized, NASA will then send its astronauts to the destination using the Orion crew capsule.
But Binzel is not convinced. “ARM makes no sense,” he states.
“The principal reason that ARM makes no sense is that it is a misstep off the path to Mars,” Binzel told Space.com. “There’s nothing about sending humans to Mars that requires us to capture an asteroid in a baggie. That’s a multibillion dollar expenditure that has nothing to do with getting humans to Mars,” Binzel said.
According to Binzel, the entire procedure to capture and stabilize an asteroid will provide no valuable knowledge necessary to send astronauts to space for an extended amount of time.
Instead of retrieving asteroids, Binzel suggests that NASA map out the almost 10 million space rocks that are currently in orbit between Earth and Mars – only 0.1% of which have been documented using telescopes. Once mapped, NASA could then cater their missions to allow space crews to travel to the asteroids – ultimately with the goal of building enough experience and confidence for NASA to undertake the Mars expedition in the future.
But in order to do so, Binzel estimates that NASA would have to set aside $800 million for the development of a dedicated space telescope; NASA’s current budget is $17.8 billion.
The mapping project, however, could be considered somewhat of an investment. It would allow scientists to detect asteroids that could be on a collision course with the Earth.
“We have to leave the cradle of Earth sometime,” said Binzel. “Asteroid missions could be a win-win for exploration and for safety.”