When an asteroid comes moseying toward Earth, NASA won't want to miss out on the supreme scientific opportunity. New NASA photos and video offer more details of the space agency's plans, confirmed earlier this year, to snag a space rock and bring it closer to Earth for study.
Of course, netting an asteroid is easier to plan than it is to pull off. The latest idea, shown in the video released Thursday, has a two-person crew aboard the Orion spacecraft that would leave Earth by way of a heavy-lift rocket. After about nine days of space travel, which includes a trip near the moon's gravity to pick up speed, Orion would approach an already-captured asteroid and dock with the robotic capture vehicle that hooked the space rock.
After the spacecraft link up, the two crew members would space-walk along the robotic capture vehicle to the bagged asteroid.
One astronaut, holding onto a mechanical arm attached to the capture vehicle, would be lowered onto the asteroid by the other astronaut and begin collecting samples -- a process taking up to six days. After putting the samples into a container, the astronauts go back to Orion, undock, and return home in about 10 days.
Interestingly, once NASA has its sample, it would redirect the asteroid to a long-term stable orbit about 43,495 miles above the moon. Think of it as a space storage container that NASA could access whenever they desired. Mining asteroids circling the moon, anyone?
Naturally, NASA's plan could change as the space agency evaluates further alternatives in 2014. A successful asteroid lasso wouldn't probably occur till 2021 (PDF).