MIT planetary scientist Richard Binzel does not like NASA’s notion of getting an Asteroid in a very large ship and then hurling it into lunar orbit so that astronauts can easily go and explore it.
At a talk last summer he called the Asteroid Return Mission (ARM) as “the emperor with no clothes, or at best with very thin cloth.” In the latest issue of Nature he’s drafted his objections in much severity and also proposed an alternative that he thinks would do justice to the ultimate goal of the Space Age, that is sending astronauts to Mars. His notion is quite simple that why fuss in bringing such an unaccounted asteroid of the solar system to us rather send astronauts to visit them which could also help in the first manned flight to Mars.
In his complete fairness he believes that NASA doesn’t really what to do with its hardware which is a bad thing. When the Obama administration opted out of sending astronauts to the moon again, NASA knew that their new target had to be to push for a visit to an asteroid so they were pretty serious about it until they realized they couldn’t really pull it off especially due to their budget constraints, so they came up with ARM which the most of the space community shunned.
Asteroids are quite common visitors to Earth and even more so fly by close to us. And they are quite interesting things as well; an asteroid a few miles across can cause the sort of planet wide catastrophe that played a big part in ending the dinosaur’s dominance of the Earth. And even a smallish one, like the 60-foot rock that fell near Chelyabinsk, Russia last year can do plenty of damage.
Binzel estimates that there are 10 million of Near Earth Asteroids and at least one passes by as close as the moon every week.
When hanging out with the asteroid, astronauts can do tons of exploration. They could bring samples for study and even look for minerals and so much so they can also test for deflection technologies that could someday come in handy as we saw in the movie “Armageddon”. And this would all come at a fraction of the cost then hurling an asteroid.