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NASA's Garver Proposes Carving Piece Off Big Asteroid For Near-Earth Mining

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the worth-it-at-any-price dept.

Space 110

MarkWhittington writes "According to a July 26, 2013 story in Space News, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver mused about what appeared to be a change to the space agency's asteroid snatching mission at the NewSpace 2013 conference. Apparently the idea is to send a robot to a larger asteroid than originally planned, carve out a chunk of it, and then bring it to lunar orbit for an crew of astronauts to visit in an Orion space ship. Garver's proposed change would widen the number of target asteroids and would test technologies important for asteroid mining. But it would also increase the complexity and certainly the cost of the asteroid mission. There are a lot of unanswered questions, such as what kind of mechanism would be involved in taking a piece of an asteroid and moving it? At the same conference Garver had hinted at a willingness to consider mounting a program of "sustainable" lunar exploration, as some in Congress have demanded, concurrent with the asteroid mission."

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110 comments

It's a trap (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407571)

This is how they seduce us into sending pork to places with senior senators. Never believe NASA when they talk sexy like this, they are just lies to get our panties off.

Re:It's a trap (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 9 months ago | (#44407783)

This is how they seduce us into sending pork to places with senior senators.

The asteroid belt?

Re:It's a trap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408005)

how about piggy backing a free ride on the asteroids to other planets instead?

Re:It's a trap (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | about 9 months ago | (#44408387)

It would cost the same delta-v to rendezvous with an asteroid as it would to reach the same orbit without the rendezvous.

Re:It's a trap (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44412419)

You're thinking of a soft landing. I believe that they're thinking along the lines of harpoon the thing and let it give the spacecraft a big yank in the right direction. Not many rocks would have the right orbit to make that practical, and the attachment mechanism would probably mass more than a larger engine and more fuel. Better is a proposal that I remember from the '70s; launch a stream of pellets from the Moon in the right direction, and your spacecraft catches them for a boost in delta-v (kind of a physical version of a light sail). That proposal also included shooting the pellets back out again to reduce delta-v when the craft nears its destination, but then you end up with a stream of pellets floating around the solar system that needs to be tracked forever.

Re:It's a trap (4, Insightful)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 9 months ago | (#44407913)

There's a ring of truth to that.

While we've landed on the moon physically, technologically we just aren't there yet. It isn't currently practical to commercially exploit yet (i.e. where the gain of doing so outweighs the losses.) While landing on the moon is surely a neat thing to do, and I myself am a big fan of NASA, doing so on the government dime just doesn't make sense right now. We're not in a space race with the Russians anymore and communism died in the 80's (save for a few select groups still in denial,) so we don't have anything to prove.

The private sector is currently in a race of its own to make getting to space more practical daily, and I think we should let it continue on that course. Space continues to see more and more commercial exploitation all the time, and the private sector will take us to the moon in the appropriate time. I think NASA's resources are probably best spent on the theoretical - the mars rovers for example are a good place for NASA to be.

Re:It's a trap (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 9 months ago | (#44408109)

The private sector is currently in a race of its own to make getting to space more practical daily

I read an editorial with the last few days that took the view that the privatized space industry is nothing more than a hobby for starry-eyed billionaires who are willing to sink vast fortunes into it with no prospect of an actual ROI.

Is there actually an in-the-black economy out there, beyond communication satellites?

Re:It's a trap (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 9 months ago | (#44408183)

Please tell us who wrote the editorial. So we can forever ignore the idiot.

'They' tell us corporate types can't see past the next quarterly profit and loss statement, political types can't see past the next election cycle. Whoever wrote that is a walking, talking, editorializing example.

Commercial launch services aren't making fortunes, but they aren't generally subsidized anymore.

In any case, individuals with vision are about the only ones making really long term investments anymore. Sure they mostly lose their money.

Re:It's a trap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408681)

You Space Nutters ARE starry-eyed dreamers. No one's going anywhere, no one's mining asteroids, there won't be Mars colonies. Get over it.

Re:It's a trap (1)

dylan_- (1661) | about 9 months ago | (#44408267)

Did you just try to make a point by beginning with "I read an editorial..."?

Are you ill or something?

Re:It's a trap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44410103)

What is needed is multiple locations for humans. ISS is just one. However, if Bigelow builds their private space station alpha in 2016, that will allow something like 14 ppl up there at a time. They are planning another station much higher, possibly el1. If so, that is the 3rd destination for humans. At that point, we have loads of launches happening. That will keep SpaceX, Blue Origin, and probably ULA in good shape. Though to be honest, ULA will have to make some major changes. Atlas and Delta are NOT doing the job.

Re:It's a trap (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 9 months ago | (#44408785)

FYI, communism hasn't died insomuch that it's on the waning influence. Given the massive amounts of debt in the US and Europe, disparity in wealth, lack of political leadership, and progressive liberal/socialistic trajectory path we've been on; the environment couldn't be more ripe for Communism to take hold and conquer the West from within. The tyranny will be self-inflicted much as it always is in a revolution. Once that happens, kiss NASA goodbye and perhaps SpaceX as well. BRIC nations will be taking over space exploration. The West BTW is in within one generation of all this happening.

Treaty Violation (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407607)

I don't think the constitution allows the government to take civilian's property. Common heritage is a form of ownership.

Is NASA aiding grand theft???

Re:Treaty Violation (1)

BenBoy (615230) | about 9 months ago | (#44407753)

Nonsense [wikipedia.org]

Re:Treaty Violation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407941)

Note the word..."purchase".

Re:Treaty Violation (4, Insightful)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44408043)

I don't see whatever it is you replied to, so I don't know what the 'nonsense' is that you refer to but it's not at all clear that Eminent Domain has any relevance - before E.D. can be relevant it must be established that a nation has de jure control over space activities (which gets into the question of whether an entity in space is still a 'person' under national law).

I have just returned from a very interesting panel discussion on Saturday afternoon (yesterday as I write this - video should be available on the website soon if not already) at NewSpace 2013 [spacefrontier.org] regarding the question of 'ownership' and right of use, mining claims, etc. This is an area of vigorous debate, and it will continue to be for the next 50-100 years. Most of the questions will end up being settled in court rather than in legislation, using rules derived from common and maritime law as much as the law of individual nations.

It's worth noting that the original attempt to control slots in Geostationary Orbit, which created a global monopoly called IntelSat, was eventually (and fortunately) overturned after 20 years of poor use. Now those slots are managed more effectively without government control, by a cooperative and competitive process among players. (IntelSat is now just one of those players, and does a good job.) One of the big risks of space exploitation is the potential for an attempt at a huge governmental central planning bureaucracy, which would almost certainly delay the benefits for decades, and would very likely kill the potential for space exploitation entirely.

If some space exploiters become trillionaires, they will do so in the process of improving the standard of living for the people of Earth, likely by a factor of 10.

What is pretty well established: under the Outer Space Treaty, a nation is responsible for the actions of 'persons' (corporate or natural) of that nation. Each nation is also responsible for any harm to the persons or property of other nations. No nation, and thus no person, may establish ownership of any celestial body, but there is some debate as to what a 'celestial body' entails, howerver the treaty does establish the principle that exploitation of the resources is part of the intent. So at this point some(most?) analysts believe that once you remove part of the body, that part is yours. This follows from 19th century mining law - a miner does not 'own' the mine - the government essentially licenses the miner to remove material, and the material removed becomes the miner's property. A smaller selection believe that once you 'move' a body, it's yours - what 'move' means is up for debate.

But one strong voice on the panel argued that in essence, the Outer Space, Moon and other treaties among Terran nations are de facto, and therefore in the long term de jure, irrelevant and without standing. Just as the American colonists eventually rejected the laws of Britain as applied to the colonies, 'spacers' will eventually if not sooner establish their own rule of law amongst themselves, which will be derived from existing common and natural law, and precedents as they might apply, probably primarily in tort (civil suit)). Her fundamental point was that the nations of Earth do not have, and are not likely to have, any method of enforcing their laws outside of some relatively small region around the planet, and this is as it should be - the laws of space should be based on the experience and needs of those who live and work there (and will be derived from applicable precedent here on Earth, such as maritime law.)

Re:Treaty Violation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44410769)

but there is some debate as to what a 'celestial body' entails

I think Halle Berry certainly qualifies.

Re:Treaty Violation (1)

phorm (591458) | about 9 months ago | (#44413223)

"before E.D. can be relevant it...

It'll be hard. I hear that they're facing stiff competition, and have been likely to flip-flop when under pressure...

Re:Treaty Violation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408309)

There are currently international treaties in effect that forbid national ownership of some things, like land in Antarctica, bodies of water more than a certain distance from claimed land and celestial bodies. "civillians" only own land as allowed by those governments or by rebellion against them. Any concept of "Common Heritage" is only supportable as long as competing nations agree to do so.

This is all big picture stuff (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407611)

The first step is probably going to be hunting down mini moons [discovery.com] where all the delta-v is provided by gravity. Once the fundamental technologies are in place we can go hunting for bigger fish, but first we have to start with the minnows.

Re:This is all big picture stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407875)

Except that it will never happen because it makes no sense, but whatever.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

littlewink (996298) | about 9 months ago | (#44407615)

Moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (4, Informative)

khallow (566160) | about 9 months ago | (#44407707)

What could possibly go wrong moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

Not much could go wrong aside from the mission just not working. The Earth's atmosphere will stop an errant asteroid chunk of this size. If those chunks get far bigger, then they'll have to worry to some degree about preventing asteroid impacts with Earth.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

jittles (1613415) | about 9 months ago | (#44408413)

What could possibly go wrong moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

Not much could go wrong aside from the mission just not working. The Earth's atmosphere will stop an errant asteroid chunk of this size. If those chunks get far bigger, then they'll have to worry to some degree about preventing asteroid impacts with Earth.

What about all the satellites that could potentially be destroyed by a large asteroid chunk moving through orbit? I mean, if they bring this in slowly enough it could be a large chunk of rock floating through various different orbits as it slowly descends toward either.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#44411527)

A single large chunk is no different than any other spacecraft in a transfer orbit. I think we've only had one or two unintended collisions between spacecraft in 60 years. It's rubble smeared out across orbits that you've got to worry about.

More than that, most asteroid plans intend to keep the rock in a high orbit, such as lunar orbit or a lagrange point, in orbit to provide a testing ground for manned space-flight beyond low orbit. Very little company up there..

if they bring this in slowly enough

Errr, no. Look, if you're curious about space, it's worth your time learning some basic orbital mechanics. The maths is just simple algebra (the harder stuff is generally already worked out by Sir Isaac and his successors, tidied up into neat formula) and it will give your a better sense of scale and how things work out there.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44408073)

There are a number of NEO asteroids of all sizes whose orbits could be modified from a solar to an Earth orbit (say, outside the lunar orbital distance with an Earth orbit of 30+ days - still close enough for useful research, and eventual exploitation) with a change in velocity of under 100 km/hour.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 9 months ago | (#44408209)

Asteroids hitting earth aren't that big of a deal. Asteroids hitting earth with a significant velocity relative to us is the problem. If we were moving one into orbit, it's relative velocity would be so low it would stand little change of doing any damage should it accidentally hit the planet.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 9 months ago | (#44410975)

Well, your comprehension skills seem to have gone wrong, since they're talking about putting it in lunar orbit. Smash an asteroid into the moon on accident? Oh well, there's another crater to go with the several thousand that are already there. Miss, and send a small asteroid chunk off into space? Well, that's where it came from anyway.

They'd have to be amazingly stupid to try to do a lunar orbit injection where any failure could mathematically become a trans-earth trajectory.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong... (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#44411691)

They'd have to be amazingly stupid to try to do a lunar orbit injection where any failure could mathematically become a trans-earth trajectory.

Not necessarily, the amount of mass we're capable of moving would be less than, say, that recent Russian meteor (about 50-70 tonnes) which was barely able to knock over a couple of walls and break windows. Even then, they'd have to be amazingly unlucky to both lose control, and have it end up on a reentry trajectory, and reenter near a city.

The only actual risk for an asteroid chunk that fails during a trajectory change exactly as it passes through trans-Earth-orbit, is if it is loosely bound rubble which happens to break up and spray an extra 10-20 tonnes of dust and rubble through low- to GEO. (And the grab-bag proposal eliminates even that tiny threat.)

And maybe inject chunks into earth-impact orbit? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 9 months ago | (#44407629)

Given that, to be a threat to Earth, such asteroids would have an orbit that almost intersects Earth's at Earth's position at the near-intersection, and risks being perturbed onto a collision course, I hope they're really careful when "carving off a chunk".

It would be ironic if, in the process of trying to avoid a potential "rifle shot" of the whole asteroid, they perturbed the rest in exactly that way, or broke it up into several large "shotgun pellets" and ended up hitting the Earth with one or more of them when the original would have missed.

It would be a good idea, as well, to be sure the towing orbit of the sample, had no points where (if the tow vehicle lost power or the load broke up) it was on a collision course.

Re:And maybe inject chunks into earth-impact orbit (1)

tloh (451585) | about 9 months ago | (#44407759)

I suddenly have this XKCDesque notion this is actually the start of a RubeGoldbergian scheme to write some esoteric Perl script.

Re:And maybe inject chunks into earth-impact orbit (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44408103)

So there is a collection of asteroids, whose orbits interact in such a way that they implement a stored-program computer that computes the lifespan of the universe? It would be interesting to see how one might number orbits so that they constitute values in a numeric system.
Whooo, this is pretty far out there! Thanks for thinking of it and inspiring some very weird ideas in my head! :D Somehow Perl is the perfect tool for this - it's already far out there.

This will happen (0)

globaljustin (574257) | about 9 months ago | (#44407643)

By some agency, humans will start playing around with asteroids relatively soon (less than 30 years by my guess).

TFA is light on details as to *what* mineral would be mined and how it would all be economically viable. However, this is NASA so we have the joy of not needing it to be taken to market.

Besides advancing science and operational spaceflight, we definitely could use an asteroid program like this to develop a procedure for deflecting/breaking up an asteroid that threatens to hit earth.

I bet somehow you could even get some of Homeland Security's budget...just tell them its to have a procedure to counter terrorists who use a captured asteroid to threaten earth.

Re:This will happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407697)

Or tell them an asteroid is the natural platform for manufacture and launch of kinetic weapons [wikipedia.org]. Scary like a nuke (though not remotely as powerful) without the unpleasant radiation afterwards.

Re:This will happen (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 9 months ago | (#44407801)

TFA is light on details as to *what* mineral would be mined and how it would all be economically viable.

I'm guessing that the stuff we're running short of would not be readily available in asteroids.

And bringing in an asteroid-load of other stuff might make the prices plummet, which might have a big impact on the economics of fetching it.

Re:This will happen (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#44408143)

Not so long ago, metallic aluminum was so rare that kings had jewelry made of it. Now it's in throwaway/recycled beer cans. At present there are many uses for platinum and other PG metals that are impractical when these metals run over $1000/ounce. And that cost is also why catalytics converters cost $1000s to replace. When (I say, not 'if') platinum costs drop below $10/ounce - just for one off-the-cuff idea - we might be able to put catalytic converters on entire utility power plants.

Disruptive technologies tend to disrupt existing businesses, but that is the essential value of technological advance. And (from Econ 101) in a mature economy, technological advance is the only thing that improves the standard of living. As you can easily see, reading this on your flat panel display on a laptop - or a cellphone - with the power of a supercomputer from not so long ago! :)

Cheap platinum will certainly eliminate the present degrading, deadly business of mining by hand thousands of tons of South African dirt for a single ounce of platinum. And IMHO that is a good thing. It may not even impact jewelry prices - there are presently two companies that are producing gem quality, and even better, diamonds of essentially arbitrary size but the gem diamond market has not collapsed. And synthetic sapphires and rubies have been around for decades but natural ones are still expensive. In fact the synthetic diamond process is probably more valuable for producing perfect single crystal integrated circuit chip substrates.

Re:This will happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408927)

I don't know where you buy your catalytic converters from, but the last one I had replaced (a few years ago) only ran me about $150 (the part was brand new, and half the cost was labor). Platinum at the time (according to historical charts) was within 10 percent of its current value.

Re:This will happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44409459)

Honeycomb, alternate minerals, and lower quantities.

The old pellet bed ones required a lot more material for catalyzation, the newer ones (Really, anything since the late 80s on, excepting some american stragglers) have thin coatings over honeycomb mesh. Much thinner on aftermarket units than on factory units generally speaking (Factory units have to be rated for 5-10 years, and hundreds of thousands of miles, assuming regular maintenence and normal engine operation). Aftermarkets meanwhile usually just have to pass smog for that year and they're a sunk cost.

This, along with the new mandatory serial numbers (At least here in Cali) is why older catalytic converters are so ripe for theft. More resalable minerals can be extracted from them, and they're basically 'untracable', compared to serialized models (which have to be documented during smog now and the serial number recorded/verified.)

This begs the question.. (3)

Virtucon (127420) | about 9 months ago | (#44407655)

When do we get enough technology out of this to play pool with planets?

Re:This begs the question.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408121)

No, it absolutely does not.

There, that's my pedantry for the day. Posting anonymous because pedantry and I don't want to blow away moderation on this story quite yet.

Re:This begs the question.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408305)

Sib is 'begs the question pendant', I'm 'inelastic collisions' pendant. That is all.

Re:This begs the question.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408393)

"Begs the question" pedant here. I recognize your physics pedantry and share the secret pleasure of speaking up against fallacy in ruthless anonymity. However, I object to being called a necklace and associated with same.

For shame, fellow pedant. For shame.
(Yes, I know I have a grammar misstep in my original post. I decided to leave it in because it gave me just the right tingle of delicious hypocrisy.)

Re:This begs the question.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408629)

Still anon: I've been known to troll gramarians.

Yeah, sure (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#44407719)

An image is worth a thousand word [wordpress.com]. It's worth more if you've seen the movie to understand my comment, however.

Raises the question... (1)

Burpmaster (598437) | about 9 months ago | (#44407771)

What the heck is a 'teroid' and did you really have to use profanity to describe how big it is?!

Re:Raises the question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44411821)

No, I'm pretty sure in this case you can properly say "Begs the question..."

I'm still waiting on flying cars (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 9 months ago | (#44407935)

Yes, mining asteroids sounds like a nice plan. But much like flying cars, I do not see it happening any time soon. But fuck, it's great to talk about, isn't it?

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (3, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 9 months ago | (#44408059)

Yes, mining asteroids sounds like a nice plan. But much like flying cars, I do not see it happening any time soon. But fuck, it's great to talk about, isn't it?

NASA is trying to rationalize its existence. Most of the public isn't interested in progress in science, but the promise of money makes us drool.

Of course, any resulting money would go to whoever gets to market the metals, and the public would get nothing but the bill for bootstrapping it.

If we want the Federal government to boost the economy, we should think more top-down, and ask "where could we invest this amount of money to produce the most bang for the buck?". I'd be more in favor of policies that promote manufacturing, since our economy is rapidly converging toward nothing but flipping hamburgers and gambling on the stock market.

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (2)

stenvar (2789879) | about 9 months ago | (#44410781)

NASA is trying to rationalize its existence. Most of the public isn't interested in progress in science, but the promise of money makes us drool.

I'm very interested in progress in science. That's why I'm not sure I support NASA. After decades of wasting money on the shuttle program and joy rides for military pilots, they don't seem to be a good steward of science.

NASA should send out tons of probes and satellites. They shouldn't be in the business of manned space flight or asteroid mining; leave those to commercial enterprises.

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44411453)

A centrally planned economy? I'm surprised the libertardians didn't climb all over you.

Much of what NASA does is basic research, and really that's their most important job since the corporations decided to focus on quarterly stock values rather than long-term planning. The thing about basic research is that you never really know where it will lead, Bell Labs discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, along with better radar sets and improving the microwave oven, for example. Basic research rarely makes headlines though.

This is basic research at its best, doing something that no one else has ever done, without really knowing what the outcome will be. Even better, it would make headlines for NASA that could prompt some of the congresscritters to actually put money where their mouths are.

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44412265)

libertardians

http://dan-e-gray.com/2010/04/the-seven-levels-of-argument/

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (4, Insightful)

CanadianMacFan (1900244) | about 9 months ago | (#44408147)

I'm glad that flying cars are taking time to get here. Have you seen the idiots attempting to drive in two dimensions? Now picture them trying to do so in three. Wait until cars can completely drive themselves before we start getting them going up in the air.

The FAA is the main obstruction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44409751)

We had several flying cars back in the days of black-and-white TV and somebody designs and builds a new version every few years... but most companies run out of money before they can clear all the FAA regulatory hurdles, and then they learn that the market is not there. This is doubly-sad because each generation of flying cars has been so much better than the preceding generation (all that cash that's been dumped into these dreams has had good results, but no customers and no visibility). The market's not there because the FAA makes the hurdle so high to get and keep a pilot's license that most people never even try to get one, and many of those who spend the massive pile of cash and time required soon learn a harsh lesson: The FAA will take it away from you in a heartbeat if you have any medical condition arise (which most people eventually do) or any number of incidents that may not have even injured anybody or damaged any property (leaving you with an expensive flying vehicle you must sell into a market with too few buyers). Nearly every person I know who got a pilot's license eventually had it jerked by the FAA for medical reasons (reasons that did NOT cost them their license to drive cars where they could just as easily kill other people...)

If FAA rules were applied to cars, most people would never drive a car and auto markets would be so small most cars would be too expensive for most people.

Re:The FAA is the main obstruction (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44411481)

So the FAA controls aircraft regulations in every country of the world? Hardly. There are hoards of wealthy people who would buy one **IF** it were practical to use. So far they're less useful and more expensive than a private plane and a sports car combined.

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 9 months ago | (#44411047)

The delay of flying cars is a good thing. When someone loses control of their rolling car, it goes into a ditch, or maybe someone's lawn. If you lose control of a flying car, it goes into some kid's bedroom on the 2nd floor.

Re:I'm still waiting on flying cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44411325)

Based on current technological trends and cost effectiveness, I am guessing that tele-presencing into an android body is going to come before flying cars. I mean why bother flying somewhere when you can just sit in an easy chair, put on a helmet, and flip a switch.

Added complexity (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 9 months ago | (#44407939)

This seems to be adding a lot of complexity to a proof-of-concept that should start as simply as possible. Just the tech involved in sending a robot and carving up a chunk seems to be putting a lot more variables into the first mining-asteroids effort than is necessary. I don't see the justification for this, unless it's just because someone wants the entire effort to fail (by design), and put an end to the idea entirely.

Re:Added complexity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408347)

Considering our success rate in sending spacecraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_(spacecraft)) to rendezvous (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NEAR_Shoemaker) with asteroids and comets (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Impact_(spacecraft)) so far suggests that it might very well be time to push the boundaries of technology again.

Many critics were saying the Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror was stupid, costly, and far too complex to work, but work is exactly what it did.

Re:Added complexity (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 9 months ago | (#44409109)

Many critics were saying the Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror was stupid, costly, and far too complex to work, but work is exactly what it did.

:) I hope you're right!

But it's only rock (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 9 months ago | (#44407963)

What could possibly be valuable enough (in the long term) to send people from the Earth to the Moon's orbit to dig out?

Sure, when someone gets self-sustaining colonies, they will have a need for raw materials but that seems to be decades or hundreds of years away. By then the technology to move people and thngs around in space will have developed further (evidenced by the self-sustaining colonies they will have enabled), so using our tech, today, to do this is both inefficient and far too early.

Re:But it's only rock (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 9 months ago | (#44408461)

The ability to collect and hurl large rocks at America's enemies.

Seriously, unless it is an international effort involving the Chinese, Europe, Russia and India then capturing asteroids could easily start a new arms race.

Re:But it's only rock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44409655)

What could possibly be valuable enough (in the long term) to send people from the Earth to the Moon's orbit to dig out?

The environment here?

Re:But it's only rock (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44411503)

Solar power satellites. Sustainable colonies. Living beyond LEO. The frontier.

This Is Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44407967)

NASA has no capable means to reach Lunar orbit let alone return nor will have in the foreseeable 50+ year future! On a meager $16 billion per budget that is decreasing year by year NASA can't even plan+design+build+maintain a new vehicle assembly building for any new rocket! Constellation is pie-in-the-sky foolery program lurching to failure.

NASA is finished. Best to turn it all off and payout the pensions or file for bankruptcy and void the pensions as the switches are being flipped to the off position.

Water for Mars and related fantasies or are they? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408055)

Asimov in one of his novels spoke of sending crews out there , attaching rocket packs and sending chunks of ice to Mars ..
he may not be all that far from what's to come. But about this , i got a few m hmm , questions ..Imagine a defect somehow in the procedure or
a false manoeuver and it's consequences for. Nice to get an asteroid close .. but a simple accident may cause a great deal of damage if said asteroid was to enter earth's atmosphere .. Claims of infaillible plans have a tendency to send chills up my spine.
Until we have safeguards in place that assures the asteroid's total destruction in case of need , i wouldn't play God and send asteroids close to earth for any reason . Such scenarios seem to be highly risky and the only ones who would profit from us being all at risk is again the companies.
What's the real benifit for mankind ? . none .. A few fat cats will get richer , but it seems any public money would be better invested in health care , in schools etc before we finance ventures to make the fat a bit fattier.

Re:Water for Mars and related fantasies or are the (1)

mrbester (200927) | about 9 months ago | (#44408439)

Asimov in one of his novels spoke of sending crews out there, attaching rocket packs and sending chunks of ice to Mars ..

Yeah, but he didn't know about the reactor.

Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

steve buttgereit (644315) | about 9 months ago | (#44408069)

I'm only giving better than even odds that we get NASA astronauts back into low Earth orbit again in a NASA spacecraft... forget about anything more dramatic than that. The culture, finances and governance of the United States would need to change significantly for anything more grand than that. A nation that, in its self-inflicted race to champion the lowest common denominator in any endeavour, consumes itself with re-defining its ability to succeed with phases like 'the new normal' is not the kind of nation that can seriously pursue spacefaring.

Science missions fair better if only because there is less public profile to capture both support and (more importantly) opposition.... in those cases the drive to get money to interested congressional districts outweigh the demands of contrary interests for other spending priorities.

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

CanadianMacFan (1900244) | about 9 months ago | (#44408179)

I thought that NASA has already given up on sending people to low Earth orbit as private companies are out to do that (and currently has Russia available to do so). What I don't understand is why NASA wants to reinvent the wheel for missions further out into space. Why does the NASA mission have to start from the ground with a new launcher for astronauts?

I would suggest using the ISS as a staging point to missions further out into the solar system. Create a heavy launch rocket for cargo (or use one that already exists) and put everything into orbit so that it could be connected to the ISS. Launch the astronauts up to the station using conventional methods (or those upcoming). They check out the vehicle while at the ISS and once everything is okay they depart. Coming back from the mission they re-attach to the space station and astronauts come down using whatever means is in use (Soyuz, etc).

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

mbone (558574) | about 9 months ago | (#44408903)

Problems with that are

- The ISS is in an orbit to suit the (latitude of the) Russians. We would waste energy sending a deep space mission (equipment or crew) to the ISS (unless we were also using Russian lift capacity or equipment, for which there are no plans at present).

- The ISS is no place to be storing large amounts of rocket fuel. You would want to keep that well away from a crewed facility.

- It is energetically much more efficient to burn off your delta V in the atmosphere when you return than to carry rockets and fuel all the way to Mars (say) and back just to get into LOW Earth orbit.

Now, if we had a base in high lunar orbit, the first objection is irrelevant and the third is no longer true (it's energetically easy to get to a Lagrange point or a high retrograde lunar orbit from a Mars or asteroid return orbit, and you could still use an atmospheric re-entry for the last bit of the return) and the third could be dealt with especially _if the fuel was made in space_, but such a base will take a while to realize. (If you think about it, the Asteroid Return Mission is the first step in doing that, even if it isn't talked about as such.)

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

Ferrofluid (2979761) | about 9 months ago | (#44409585)

The ISS is no place to be storing large amounts of rocket fuel. You would want to keep that well away from a crewed facility

Why? Assuming they'd be using a bipropellant fuel combo like hydrogen / oxygen, it would make sense for them to store the fuel and oxidizer in separate tanks. What would be the danger? If one of the tanks were to rupture, all that would happen is the fuel would leak into space. It's only a danger if the two gases mix, and if you kept the two tanks far enough away from each other, I don't see that happening.

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

mbone (558574) | about 9 months ago | (#44409639)

Well, you would have to pump it into the rocket at some point.

Here, however, is another way to think of it. If you are going to do orbital fuel storage in LEO, you will have to send up the tanks, pumps, etc. - they are not at station now. So, then, you have to ask, where, exactly, should they be sent, and (for us) the answer won't be the ISS (for the reasons I gave).

Note that if the Russians ever started thinking again about sending people into deep space, they would come to different conclusions, and could well want to use the ISS for staging.

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

steve buttgereit (644315) | about 9 months ago | (#44409923)

NASA, in building a spacecraft that could go beyond low earth orbit, would inevitably have test runs of those systems to low earth orbit. Especially given the risk tolerance at NASA today, with requirements for backup spacecraft and all (remember the second shuttle waiting on the launch pad just in case at the end of that program?) So while their stated goals are beyond low earth orbit... I don't believe they'll do better again, if they manage to pull even a low earth orbit test flight off.

Space travel takes time, money, engineering talent, a willingness to take risks and perseverance. On most counts, there is none of that in the U.S. anymore. You can still find good engineers I suspect, but all other factors trump that. Can you imagine a concerted space initiative crossing presidential administrations in this day and age... even of the same party let alone crossing party lines? Kennedy and Nixon both had cold war agendas that drove their programs; Apollo for Kennedy probably wasn't hurt by his assassination, ensuring that later administrations would carry forward in the name of a beloved president. Nixon was convinced that the space shuttle could pluck Soviet satellites out of orbit and so saw compelling reason to go for it.

Today, announcing a bold national commitment to a new manned space program and putting words into action would draw at least a thousand interest groups claiming that their need was greater.... feed the poor, house the unhoused, create art, etc. This sort of thing wouldn't survive the appropriations process in this day and age... way too many people that vote now are dependent on handouts from the same source of funds to make it practical or popular. Never mind an economy that is shambles, despite the opinion of certain political and economic interests, and simply can't afford such an endeavour.

Re:Nothing to see here... move along.... (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about 9 months ago | (#44410239)

What I don't understand is why NASA wants to reinvent the wheel for missions further out into space. Why does the NASA mission have to start from the ground with a new launcher for astronauts?

Because [youtube.com].

Which Orion? (1)

runeghost (2509522) | about 9 months ago | (#44408199)

I got really excited for a moment after reading the article, before I realized he's talking about this [wikipedia.org] Orion, and not this [wikipedia.org] one.

Re:Which Orion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44408585)

i felt the same way

Re:Which Orion? (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44412773)

I have the nasty suspicion that the choice of names was deliberate, chosen to 1) make the public/press forget the original Orion project, 2) shove the original Orion so low in the rankings of search engines that no one finds it. The political wonks in the Bush White House chose the name, not NASA, and they did very little by accident.

It makes sense (5, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 9 months ago | (#44408289)

The trouble with sending a mission (manned or unmanned) to a very small (5 meter class) asteroid in the near future is that we don't know their orbits well enough. At all. Out of 374 very small near Earth asteroids known, exactly 2 have decently determined orbits. The chances of finding a candidate 5 meter asteroid in time to send a mission to it, and having a good enough determination of its orbit to have a mission get to it, is basically nill without a dedicated space telescope such as the B612 Foundations Sentinel [b612foundation.org] mission. So, unless we are willing to wait for an extra 5+ years to build and fly an asteroid finder, that means we have to carve off a piece of a bigger asteroid (more are known, and they tend to have better orbit determinations). As it happens, that is also what the asteroid mining people want NASA to demonstrate, as that fits their view of how asteroid mining will be done, and it will make the asteroid geologists happier as well, so this seems like a win-win all around.

Re:It makes sense (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 9 months ago | (#44408349)

As it happens, that is also what the asteroid mining people want NASA to demonstrate, as that fits their view of how asteroid mining will be done

Which raises the question of why taxpayer money is being poured into R&D that should be handled by the private sector itself. This is a move past NASA's mission of doing basic science and exploration toward a fancy make-work program.

Re:It makes sense (2)

mbone (558574) | about 9 months ago | (#44408867)

There is a long history here - from (for some major examples) the early Canals, to the Trans-Continental Railroad and the Geological Surveys of the West, followed by Air Mail and then the first communications satellites - of the Government (actually, of many governments) putting money either into R&D for or direct support of early-stage commercial ventures, in order to get them on their feet. It wouldn't be the first time NASA has done this by a long, long shot. In fact, US support of Aeronautics (the first "A" in NASA) has always been in part explicitly in support of commercial developments, going from back to the NACA days, before NASA was even founded.

Re:It makes sense (1)

cusco (717999) | about 9 months ago | (#44412823)

You forget, US corporations don't do R&D any more, the cost reduces executive bonuses. If the ROI is more than a year away then it's not worth bothering with since it won't improve the stock value before the executives move on to their next position the their game of 'musical chairs'.

Piling on requirements (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | about 9 months ago | (#44408395)

Sounds like a stealthy way of killing off the project, by piling on requirements until it's obviously too expensive or risky.

Do asteroids really have what we are looking for? (1)

snikulin (889460) | about 9 months ago | (#44408419)

Moon seems does not have much.
Why we are so sure asteroids do?
I read somewhere all "heavy metal" stuff is mostly in Mercury/Venus/Earth zone, the further away, the lighter the "metals".
Are we so desperate for chondrite and iron?

Re:Do asteroids really have what we are looking fo (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#44412587)

Why we are so sure asteroids do?

You're right. We should probably first send out, oh I don't know, say a robot mission to bring a small asteroid (or a sample from a larger one) back close enough for us to be able to run lots of checks. Hell we could even combine it with the manned program in order to gain some relatively safe but challenging experience doing work beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years; two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Garver Is Disease (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44409797)

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is a member of the Diseased tissue at NASA and must be surgically removed for the patient to survive.

Her death will be welcomed by many at the NASA center across the U.S.A. The U.S.A. which Garver hates.

Pork for (Space Launch System) SLS (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 9 months ago | (#44411281)

The key comment is for the Orion spacecraft to visit the chunk. The pork-mongers in Houston are building the SLS which has been called the "rocket to nowhere" with no mission in mind. Here is a perfect, though far-fetched, justification of this pork. Pork is not so bad except for the fact they it steals money for the real science being done at JPL with this unmanned probes. NASA should split so that Houston will quit stealing money from JPL.

Pre-orders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44411855)

If they want to pay for this mission why not just take pre-orders for pieces of any rock brought back? What's a meteorite go for these days? What's a piece of history worth to a world of collectors?

Changing the Earth's mass (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44413385)

I wonder what the effects are to bringing heavy material back to Earth. My first guess is that it will begin to slow the rotation and have other unforeseen effects on the wobble. I'm surprised that environmentalists aren't freaking out over the thought that this could have a far more immediate impact than their climate change worries.

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