NASA once again asked the private sector for help carrying its troubled mission to redirect an asteroid heading towards Earth.
The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory asked private companies to help it design, develop and build a robotic spacecraft to capture a multi-ton asteroid boulder in deep space and haul it into orbit around the moon. NASA has already accepted help from the private companies Lockheed Martin, Space Systems/Loral, Boeing and Orbital ATK.
NASA previously published a request for aerospace contractors in August to save ARM by accepting private sector-provided payloads and technical expertise.
ARM intends to launch the probe to an asteroid by 2021. NASA plans to send astronauts to retrieve samples from the asteroid in 2028. The space agency is confident the asteroid will not hit Earth.
NASA hasn’t exactly explained why it’s opening up the mission to private space corporations, but Spaceref.com notes the mission’s projected costs increased from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion. The government claims the mission’s budget will be extremely limited, but the increase has provoked a backlash in Congress.
A bill sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz directly targets ARM, saying “it is the sense of Congress that the technological and scientific goals of the Asteroid Robotic Redirect Mission may not be commensurate with the cost.” Cruz’s legislation instructs the space agency to develop a “strategic framework” to send astronauts to Mars instead of an asteroid.
Many scientists have been critical of Obama’s space priorities. Dr. Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist who studies asteroids at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a scathing take-down of the mission. Binzel said it was a “dead end,” “not a science mission,” and that it would destroy NASA’s Planetary Science Division. Even the science magazine Nature has criticized ARM for delaying NASA’s mission to land humans on Mars.
If enacted, Cruz’s legislation would reverse Obama’s dramatic use of NASA funding for the asteroid mission and global warming research over conventional space exploration. Obama previously even siphoned funding from NASA’s mission to search for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa to pay for the asteroid mission and environmental research.
NASA hasn’t launched an astronaut into space for five years without Russian cooperation after Obama cut the agency’s spaceflight capability. Obama threatened to veto NASA’s attempts to build rockets, and tried to divert space exploration funding into global warming programs. Two senators even accused the Obama administration of leaking information to the press about the Mars programs.
Deep Space Industries (DSI) plans to probe an asteroid in 2017 to see if it’s suitable for mining, the company’s CEO told The Daily Caller News Foundation. DSI believes it can sell air, building material, water and propellant in space cheaper than launching them from Earth.
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