Advancing Our Deep Space Exploration Program

Yesterday, a distinguished panel discussed NASA’s progress on a proposed mission to find, capture, redirect and visit a near-Earth asteroid. The presentation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2013 Conference and Exposition in San Diego offers our most mature thinking about how we’ll locate an asteroid in deep space, and send cutting edge space technology to bring it to an orbit closer to Earth where astronauts can visit and study it and bring samples home – all part of our ambitious plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030’s.

This initiative — which includes the broad swath of public engagement to identify more near-Earth objects, plus the mission to bring one of these ancient space rocks closer to home and send astronauts to it on an unprecedented mission — has captured the world’s imagination.

Since President Obama set as a goal for NASA sending humans to an asteroid by 2025, we’ve been leveraging the hard work we were already doing on a Space Launch System and the Orion crew vehicle to carry astronauts to deep space. Our Space Technology Mission Directorate is working on new capabilities such as solar electric propulsion to power the mission to retrieve the asteroid. On the LADEE spacecraft that launched to the moon last Friday, there’s an experiment to test laser communications that will support our future deep space missions. This is just a sampling of the many things we are already working on to make the asteroid mission — and our other deep space missions — a reality.

NASA has chosen 96 ideas it regards as most promising from more than 400 submitted in response to a June request for information about protecting Earth from asteroids and finding asteroids humans can explore.

The ideas provide the agency with fresh insight into how best to identify, capture and relocate a near-Earth asteroid for closer study and respond to asteroid threats. At the end of this month, we’ll hold a workshop in Houston to look in more detail at the top ideas we received.

Earlier this summer we completed a mission formulation review to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the asteroid mission. The review assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission. With the mission formulation review complete, we now will begin integrating the most highly-rated concepts into an asteroid mission baseline concept to further develop in 2014.

Next week I depart for Asia — to visit our Japanese partners in Tokyo and then to attend the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing along with the leaders of the world’s space agencies. It will be a great opportunity to strengthen our partnerships, discuss the issues facing the world space community and talk about the asteroid mission in greater detail.

In Japan, I look forward to meetings with many officials at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, one of our strongest partners on the International Space Station. Japan is also very interested in asteroid exploration. NASA had a part in the Japanese Hayabusa mission that returned the first samples of an asteroid in space to Earth. That was just the beginning of what we’re going to learn from our efforts to identify more asteroids, understand them, and transform our exploration capabilities by developing the technologies to send humans on a mission to one.

Make no mistake; this mission represents an unprecedented technological challenge that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities. It will also inform our efforts to develop technologies and processes that may one day help protect our home planet. It brings together the best of NASA in an integrated way to once again raise the bar of human achievement.

In August, we announced that we’re bringing the NEOWISE telescope out of retirement with a new goal: identify more near-Earth objects.

Starting in October, the Spitzer Space Telescope will attempt infrared observations of a small near-Earth asteroid named 2009 DB to better determine its size. This study will assist NASA in understanding potential candidates for the agency’s asteroid capture and redirection mission. However, this asteroid is just one of many candidates the agency is evaluating. [Link to Spitzer release] We recently released new photos and video animations depicting the asteroid mission. The images demonstrate crew operations, including the Orion spacecraft’s voyage and rendezvous with the relocated asteroid and astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples.

I’m proud of the team of scientists, engineers and program managers who are eagerly combining scientific and engineering know-how with innovative ideas to make this mission a reality. I’m equally proud of our new astronauts, who are even now training for tomorrow’s missions, and the people engaged with our work across the world, who are sharing their ideas and expertise to make this exciting mission a reality.

The future of space exploration and international partnerships to benefit humankind is bright and our presentation at the AIAA Conference and Exposition highlighted the exciting endeavor on which we are currently embarked.

You can read more about the asteroid retrieval mission at: