The American space agency, NASA, has announced a bold and visionary plan that hearkens back to the glory days of the early space program. Yes, the plan is complicated and may be tough to pull off—and it is rocket science—but the payoff promises huge benefits such as potentially saving the Earth from future catastrophe and laying the groundwork for a 21st Century trillion dollar industry.
The amazing project, set to proceed before 2020 entails sending a sophisticated robot spacecraft to lasso a space rock and tow it back to Lunar orbit. If successful the mission could deliver those whopping benefits for the relatively small investment of $78 million. Once safely circling the Moon, astronauts would study it and glean important information about "the origins of the solar system and inform decisions about how to conduct missions to distant planetary bodies," NASA stated as part of their 2014 budget proposal released April 10th.
NASA's Associate Administrator for Science, John Grunsfeld, stated: "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."
But the entire mission has added benefits including a new generation of laser technology and needed experience "in deep space operations to send humans to more distant destinations in the solar system, including Mars," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.
Private lunar and asteroid mining projects to benefit
Several private space firms have announced plans to launch lunar missions and robotic asteroid mining projects in a comprehensive 10-year plan combing the efforts of the government space agency and a slew of private firms.
FoxNews explains some of the immediate benefits: In the ten-year, $2.6-billion venture, private firms will work with NASA to demonstrate how to extract water, construction material, and even strategic metals from the millions of asteroids that lurk near Earth’s orbit. Access to water, rocket fuel, chemicals, and metals from the asteroids and the Moon would lower dramatically the cost of exploring space, and launch profitable ventures from mining to manufacturing."
It would also set the stage for future missions to Mars and eventually colonies and industry on the Moon and the Red Planet.
Recently, a new lunar project has been announced by a private space company managed by former NASA managers: Golden Spike. Golden Spike claims it will be able to take passengers to the Moon and then return them safely to Earth by no later than 2020, just seven years from now.
Gerry Griffin, a former Apollo flight director and acting chairman of Golden Spike claims a recent market study reveals that up to 25 nations have the money to pay for the trip to the Moon. He believes some may want to book trips.
Golden Spike joins a growing list of private firms and countries that have recently announced their intentions to travel to the Moon. Internet giant Google has revealed an aggressive plan to land robot craft on the Moon's surface and to build a fleet of asteroid mining spacecraft. Nations planning missions to Luna now include Russia, China, Japan, and India. Russia has also announced future manned Mars missions.
National Geographic reports that "NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot laid out the agency's time line for the mission: target selection in 2016, asteroid capture in 2019, and the first astronaut visits to the relocated rock in 2021."