The Asteroid Redirect Mission has often been mentioned by NASA as a practice run towards their goal of Mars. Given the differences between each it would be understood if one wondered why. Both offer different challenges. One has atmosphere the other does not.
A quick history lesson; remember the Mercury & Gemini missions? What was their purpose? They were part of the learning curve in becoming a space faring nation. There were tasks that in going to the moon would either have to be done or might become necessary and so NASA understood that they needed to know the procedures could be handled. Without Mercury or Gemini there could have been no Apollo.
So with that understanding go back to the Asteroid Redirect Mission and think more along the lines of a lessons learned type mission.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission involves the following. NASA will capture a small asteroid and place it into orbit around the moon. While it is there, the astronauts will visit it (in 2025). Since a mission to Mars is anticipated sometime in the 2030’s this will have allowed NASA scientists and engineers to work out some potential problems the Mars mission might present while still nearby. Check out the photo below for a close up of the mission plan.
Going to Mars will be placing Astronauts in the unique position of being deeper in space and longer in space than Earthlings have ever been previously. Most recently Astronauts are used to LEO – Low Earth’s Orbit, as Asteroid Mission will send them out to the Moon’s orbit. Another major area of learning, the lack of constant communications; On the ISS NASA command is only a communications button away. The Asteroid Redirect Mission will require that astronauts be separated from contact with Earth periods of time building self-sufficiency into the equation. It also tests the ground controllers.
NASA has 2 different plans for the mission. Either a robotic spacecraft would capture a small asteroid and bring it back to the Moon OR a robotic spacecraft could visit a larger asteroid, break off a chunk and then bring that back to lunar orbit. Either plan is quite ambitious.
But it should be recognized that there are far more benefits from doing this than just the benefit to the Mars Mission. The science should never be forgotten. The science of getting to examine an asteroid that has not come down through the atmosphere; perhaps telling us more about the asteroids characteristics and thus helping NASA to better protect the Earth, explain more about the development of the planets, moons, asteroids, us…. Maybe even so-called alien life!
NASA – GO BAG A ROCK!!!