NASA is necessary

NASA: NASA boss: asteroid capture necessary for Mars mission

Vienna. The US space agency NASA plans to use a spacecraft to capture a small asteroid and put it into orbit around the moon by the end of the decade. From there, astronauts are supposed to take samples of the asteroid and bring them back to Earth. For NASA boss Charles Bolden, this is not a show project: "If we want to bring people to Mars, we must first be able to carry out the asteroid mission," said Bolden in Vienna.

Bolden is a guest at the current meeting of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna and is also promoting international participation in the asteroid project during his trip. In the afternoon, the NASA boss will give the Natural History Museum Vienna three samples of lunar rocks from the NASA missions Apollo 15 and 17 as long-term loans.

Mars and asteroids
Although Bolden had recently emphasized that NASA would like to spend as much of the available funds as possible on the manned Mars mission planned for 2030, the asteroid project fits into these plans for him. "There are a number of technological hurdles that we have to overcome in order to get people to Mars," said the NASA boss. As an example, he cited a solar high-voltage drive (high-power solar electric propulsion) or improved life-support systems. Some of these would have to be solved in order to carry out the asteroid mission. "We are using it to remove technological hurdles, which is one of the most important reasons for the mission," said Bolden.

But the spectacular project does not only have to do with Mars. The project also increases the list of known asteroids. "We only know ten to 20 percent of the asteroids with a diameter of less than one kilometer. But we should know about 95 percent in order to reliably identify potential dangers for the earth," said Bolden. The project has already doubled NASA's budget for identifying astroids from the current $ 20 million (EUR 15 million) to $ 40 million in 2014.

On asteroid capture
At a press conference, Bolden recalled that asteroids are potential natural disasters, as demonstrated by the impact of a meteorite near Chelyabinsk in Russia last February with more than 1,000 injuries. Nothing can be done about it today, but the mission is to show that you can capture an asteroid, divert it and thus avoid an impact on Earth. "This is how we can prevent us from becoming dinosaurs," said the NASA boss, referring to the extinction of the dinosaurs due to a huge meteorite impact 65 million years ago.