Fetch, NASA, Fetch!
June 21, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

It's not unusual to want to nab an asteroid.
posted by kmz at 2:03 PM on June 21, 2012 [34 favorites]

In other news, veteran astronaut Tom Jones just wants to know what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.
posted by bicyclefish at 2:05 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's not unusual to be nabbed by you...

I will also accept "what's new, asteriod, whoa whoa whoa"
posted by davejay at 2:13 PM on June 21, 2012

Gz, off by ten minutes. You'd think I could read.
posted by davejay at 2:13 PM on June 21, 2012

I'm not sure I'd want to see what astronauts fans might throw on stage during a peformance.
posted by zippy at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2012

Bad idea. They're cute when they're little, but what are you going to do when it grows too big to care for? Flush it down the toilet? I don't think so.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I concur.
posted by mikelieman at 2:32 PM on June 21, 2012

I prefer: It's not unusual to want to nob an asteroid
posted by Chekhovian at 2:37 PM on June 21, 2012

He picking up the tab?
posted by Ironmouth at 2:42 PM on June 21, 2012

C'mon, ya know somebody wanna frack that thang!
posted by kozad at 2:46 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Popular Mechanics article closes with "If capturing an asteroid were incorporated into its deep-space plans, NASA could bring home the space bacon before 2025."

I think once the public learns we're talking about harvesting space bacon they'll get behind this idea.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:47 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Veteran astronaut Tom Jones thinks NASA should nab an asteroid.

This is a misprint. The correct text is: NASA thinks Tom Jones should nab a steriod. As a doctor, I agree. I'd prescribe a course of testosterone to restore manly vigour and prevent the patient from poncing about in wankfests like "The Voice"
posted by gallus at 2:52 PM on June 21, 2012

...or even a steroid... that's fucked that one up then...
posted by gallus at 2:56 PM on June 21, 2012

While they're at it grab a few. Then mine the heck out of them.
posted by Splunge at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2012

The ACR mission would go after a water-rich C-type, or carbon-rich, asteroid. These bodies contain up to 20 percent water and up to 6 percent organic material that's similar to black, asphalt-like tar sands. The water and light elements in these bodies would be valuable as propellants, drinking water, breathing oxygen, and industrial chemicals for an off-planet economy. Plus, the residue left behind from further extraction of nickel and iron would be rich in prized cobalt and platinum-group elements. Altogether, a 7-meter C-type asteroid with a mass of 500 tons could produce up to 200 tons of water, 90 tons of metal (83 tons of iron, 6 tons of nickel, and 1 ton of cobalt), plus 200 tons of silicate rock valuable for their semiconductor elements and radiation shielding.

God, I really hope that turns out to be true; nothing makes me sadder than arguments that asteroid mining will be economically unfeasible for the rest of my lifetime (I freely admit to being a little disappointed when Alastair Reynolds' Pushing Ice quickly morphed from a book about asteroid miners into a book about colossally fucked-up deep space-time travel. I kinda wanted more about the asteroid mining).

The "would be valuable" link goes to another Popular Mechanics article, Tapping the Riches of Space, which has deliriously delicious info bits like these:

Jerry Sanders from NASA’s Johnson Space Center said that the agency has developed a robot processor that can break down lunar soils and extract oxygen for use in life support and as a rocket propellant. Sanders says that it doesn’t take a huge refinery to do this. A device the size of a lawnmower, processing just 4 cups of soil per minute, will produce 10 metric tons of oxygen annually. NASA has already put a prototype of the oxygen processor through its paces in Hawaii.

...The cost of prospecting spacecraft has to come down too. Elvis envisions swarms of cheap, small probes to confirm the presence of water and other resources. Multiple, low-cost asteroid prospectors will be less vulnerable to occasional failures than the expensive planetary probes NASA produces today. Planetary Resources president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki says that his company plans to exploit asteroid resources using a series of small, increasingly capable spacecraft.

There is nothing that strikes me more likely as the next major step in human stellar exploration than corralling an asteroid.
posted by mediareport at 4:01 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

What does it take to get to Mars in, oh say, a week? Energy, which with nuclear fusion is well within the current technology. The one other essential is reaction mass, which is just incredibly expensive to transport the 5-10 miles where it would be useful. Now if that reaction mass was already up in or bit, the entire local geography (solar system) is much closer.

t = 2 * sqr(d/a)

t = time in seconds
d = distance in metres = 90 billion
a = acceleration ( 1G = 9.8 m/s^2 )

1 G would take 53 hours.
0.25 G would take 106 hours.
0.1 G would take 168 hours or 7 days

It's a bootstrap problem, once we can really build things in orbit we can go get more raw materials, then the only thing we need to send on rockets is people and tasty delicacies that are not easy to bake in orbit.

Can you afford to send yourself into space? At potential SpaceX rates if you can imagine affording a house then you can imagine affording a ticket for your own personal mass. Food is expensive at any fancy hotel and air is another cost, but if it's from an asteroid there are economies of scale and it'll just be pricey.

We need machine shops in space, not scientists.
posted by sammyo at 5:01 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Off to community college I go then. To boldly go and be the first combo machinist/wrench-monkey/biochemist in space.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:33 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a whole lot to say here besides that I really, really want to see this happen. Like, I want to hear that they've started on this tomorrow.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:11 PM on June 21, 2012

Isn't there a TON of kinetic energy stored up in one of those things? Wouldn't you burn up a shitload of energy just slowing one down?
posted by gjc at 8:07 PM on June 21, 2012

Once they've nabbed the asteroid they will tow it into a safe orbit around our moon.

On a related note, here is Tom Jones singing "Fly Me to the Moon".
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2012

If he wants to successfully convince the US government he has to stop using logic and sensible arguments. The thing to do is appeal to fear.

What if... a rogue nation... like North Korea or Sealand, captured an asteroid and used it to rain massive destruction down upon us? We should, no, we must perfect this asteroid capture technology first, for our own safety. It's a matter of national security.

The dinosaurs ignored this threat, and look what happened to them!
posted by Kevin Street at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wot? Sealand killed the dinosaurs?

There is a definite point in the evolution of any planetary civilization where you come to terms with the fact that the millennia you have had to build your civilization is really nothing, time-wise, compared to huge expanse of the Universe. I've seen this over and over again, during my astral journeys throughout the Cosmos. Time and time again I see a nice little planet, given an epoch undisturbed by the collision forces of cosmic debris, begin the same sequence of transformations. Prokaryotes become eukaryotes... you see this over and over again, these proto-civilizations. Once the loops are in place you see rapid positive feedback leading to consciousness and civilization, but it's much more rare to see one of these planets reach the point where there is a global recognition that the biggest threat to continuing isn't from other parts of the same planet. Simple rocks from space, following simple Newtonian mechanics, regularly pound into this planet. The distribution of impacts over time follows a declining power law, in the sense that tiny little things smash into us all the time, with little consequence, but really big things do smash into us much less frequently. Sometimes a planet is able to take enough advantage of the finer loops of focused energy during one of these tiny non-collision windows to begin collision avoidance. An actual perturbation of the trajectory of an interplanetary object is detectable from quite a distance, and we'll contact you when you've done that, to welcome you to the universe.

I think this planet will survive into the obvious next level. I have high hopes for Earth. Some of my best friends live here.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:43 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mmmm, space bacon.
posted by WPW at 2:03 AM on June 22, 2012

Meh. Veteran astronaut David Jones thinks it's a bad idea.
posted by Twang at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2012

Wot? Sealand killed the dinosaurs?

I wouldn't put it past them!

And to address the other, non-fear arguments for a moment, our relationship to the Solar System right now is kind of like Europe's relationship to the new world in the 16th century. We know it's out there, we sent Vikings and our own astronaut Columbuses and Magellans, but we're not quite sure what it's good for yet.

But a little investment in exploration and development now could reap huge benefits down the road. Tom Jones' proposal is exactly the sort of thing NASA should be doing: developing techniques and proofs of concept that will come in handy for the next generation, so they don't have to start at zero when they begin to exploit our new worlds.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:46 AM on June 22, 2012

NASA's next big manned mission is to send astronauts to an asteroid. Training has already begun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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