NASA's asteroid-bagging plan 'not as crazy' as it seems

Jet Propulsion Lab head explains the Asteroid Redirect Mission

Credit: Image credit: Flickr/ANDREWSRJ

I guess this really is NASA's bag, baby! Early this year I wrote about the space agency's nascent plan to send a robot spacecraft out to retrieve a small asteroid and place it into lunar orbit so we Earthlings can study it at our leisure without getting radiation all over us. The really odd thing about the plan is that NASA imagines hauling the asteroid back toward Earth not with a tractor beam or something else appropriately high-tech, but with a lowly bag. C'mon, space dudes, you're not going to the mall! But the top space dude at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently told the Washington Post that the bag plan ... Just. Might. Work. “It’s not as crazy as it seemed at the beginning,” said Charles Elachi, who runs the JPL and who probably doesn't have the time or budget for crazy. NASA's plan, as explained in the Post, goes like this:

The mission, which could cost upward of $2 billion, would use a robotic spacecraft to snag the small rock and haul it into a stable orbit around the moon. Then astronauts would blast off in a new space capsule atop a new jumbo rocket, fly toward the moon, go into lunar orbit, and rendezvous with the robotic spacecraft and the captured rock. They’d put on spacewalking suits, clamber out of the capsule and examine the rock in its bag, taking samples. This would ideally happen, NASA has said, in 2021.

However, Republicans in Congress are putting up resistance to the project, and NASA itself faces hard choices due to budget restraints, so there's a good chance the asteroid-bagging plan may never lift off. Unless, of course, a corporate sponsor steps up. If you're the CEO of Hefty or Glad, wouldn't you want your company's logo on the first space bag? Just think about it. Now read this:

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