Landing on an Asteroid
The idea of landing on an asteroid cemented itself into the American public’s imagination in 1998 with the blockbuster film Armageddon, a science fiction disaster thriller where Bruce Willis saves the world by landing on, and then blowing up a piece of space rock. On February 12, 2001, the real-life NASA got one step closer to the ambitious goal when the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) spacecraft touched down on Eros, an asteroid 196 million miles from Earth. While the endeavor marked the first successful asteroid landing, the NEAR craft was merely a probe, a 1,100-pound space robot controlled by technicians at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Landing a spaceship with humans on board is a whole other ballgame.
NASA claims the project is in play, reporting in May 2014 that plans are underway to “identify an asteroid that could be reached by a robotic mission to capture it and bring it into a stable orbit around the moon.” Once the asteroid has been selected and positioned, NASA intends to launch the Orion spacecraft with a small crew of astronauts to explore the asteroid up close and bring back samples. ETA: “the 2020s,” which really isn’t so far away.
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