Who's up for an asteroid rodeo?

I’m generally a fan of NASA, as I’ve said here many times, and I’m willing to forgo some fiscal restraint to fund a lot of their work. In particular, I like the investments we make in the technology for newer and better telescopes to search for planets outside our solar system and locating near Earth objects. The results are not only interesting from a scientific point of view, but the process of developing them sometimes leads to new technological advances which can be used here on Earth. But even with all that said, I’m not sure if this particular scheme is even worth $100M.

Nasa plans asteroid rodeo to lasso 25ft space rock for research

Nasa is going on an asteroid rodeo. In plans that sound like science fiction but that are aimed at becoming science fact, the US space agency has revealed its ambitions to lasso an asteroid and drag it back to the Earth. Nasa scientists are engaged on a hunt for a suitable space rock that can be the target of the mission, which has been scheduled tentatively for 2019.

“It really is a clever concept. Go find your ideal candidate for an asteroid. Go get it robotically and bring it back,” said Florida senator Bill Nelson as he unveiled the plans at a press conference.

The capture plan is being described as a “baggie with a draw string” to snag the rock – ideally 25 ft across and 500 tons – and drag it back here to park it in orbit near the moon. Then we could examine it and potentially learn something which could be used for asteroid mining in the future.

I don’t know how much we’re going to learn from this about asteroids in terms of being able to protect ourselves from big ones which may come our way. If that’s the primary reason and they’re going to get some good data, I suppose I could see it. But I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of “mining” asteroids for resources to bring back to Earth. (Using them for fuel sources for missions out in space I can see, I guess.) Even if this thing was made of solid platinum, the cost of cutting it up and getting it back to the surface in a usable form would be prohibitive from most studies I’ve seen. And if you really want a small asteroid, the moon is simply peppered with them, isn’t it? Couldn’t you do some sort of mining operation up there?

I don’t want to be all Debby Downer here. I really do love space research and think it’s generally a worthwhile investment. This looks like a bit of a lark, though.

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