Progress on the Asteroid Redirect Mission — and the Path to Mars!

By Michele Gates, Senior Technical Advisor for NASA’s Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate.

NASA‘s human exploration plan employs a building-block approach which begins in low-Earth orbit, with the International Space Station, then takes us around and beyond the moon in early uses of capabilities to take humans to Mars – and safely return them! Central to this plan is how we test capabilities and prepare for long duration deep space travel.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will provide an early use of several important required technologies and capabilities, including the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, advanced solar electric propulsion, rendezvous and docking, and deep space extra-vehicular activity.  Collaboration across the Agency in science, technology and human space flight will align these activities in a compelling mission to redirect a small asteroid to a stable orbit about the moon, followed by astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft exploring the asteroid and returning to Earth with samples.

This mission will utilize foundational capabilities for human and robotic exploration.  We will travel beyond LEO to the proving ground of cis-lunar space, further than humans have ever traveled before, where we will expand and test our capabilities in a rendezvous with the redirected asteroid in lunar orbit.  These steps will build the foundation for further deep-space exploration.  With the technologies and techniques we develop, we will enable expeditions to multiple destinations, ultimately allowing us to pioneer Mars.

On Monday and Tuesday this week, I joined dozens of engineers and scientists from around the country for a workshop on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) at Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies. A Keck study in 2012 that proposed an asteroid redirect mission and this follow-on study is examining future applications of mission technologies. Since the Keck study report release in 2012, NASA has made enormous strides developing potential mission concepts, identifying candidate target asteroids, and challenging the public to submit their ideas. Two weeks ago, we hosted an Asteroid Forum that provided an update on ARM concepts and new opportunities for public participation.

This week’s Keck Institute meeting focused on ways the ARM mission could create new opportunities for exploration and industry. NASA will certainly use ARM systems and technologies in putting Mars within our grasp for human exploration. Other groups are interested in the potential of ARM technologies for such things as science investigations, planetary defense against potential asteroid threats, and commercial mining of asteroids.

It also speaks to a larger story of American human spaceflight. As NASA sets it sights on getting to Mars, it’s creating new opportunities for the nation. And as we pull together as a nation to create these new opportunities, we’ll do amazing things to expand human presence farther into the solar system. I invite you to follow our progress as ARM takes shape and we step closer to human missions into deep space onto Mars: