Efforts to send humans to Mars have been making headlines as of late, but one MIT researcher says we should be aiming for a different destination: near-Earth asteroids.
In an opinion piece for Nature magazine, MIT professor and asteroid scientist Richard Binzel argues that near-Earth asteroids (NEA) are the perfect destination for testing equipment and systems that could ultimately be used to transport people to Mars.
Binzel is critical of NASA’s current multibillion dollar Asteroid Redirection Mission (ARM) project, which aims to capture and redirect an asteroid near the Earth so astronauts can reach it, using “either a huge capture bag or a Rube Goldberg contraption resembling a giant arcade-game claw.” Instead, suggests Binzel, why not wait for one of the nearly 10 million NEAs to pass near the moon and use it as a stepping-stone to a Mars mission?
Binzel’s plan calls for a thorough survey of asteroids to identify a series of destinations. He estimates that a survey could be completed within a decade, at a fraction of the cost of NASA’s ARM plan. Missions would travel increasingly further from Earth and closer to Mars. As an added bonus, such a survey would identify asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth, such as the Chelyabinsk meteor that entered the atmosphere over Russia in 2013.
Read the full article at Nature.
Q&A with Binzel at the Boston Globe.
Binzel talks to MIT News about NASA’s asteroid redirection project.