NASA releases simulation of asteroid mission

NASA is planning to capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid, and it asked the public to help plan the mission. More than 400 proposals came in, and the space agency continues to narrow down the best candidates.

On Aug. 22 the agency released new images and video of the proposals that are under consideration. The plan is to continue developing a baseline concept for the mission before establishing a more detailed plan in 2014.

The mission involves redirecting an asteroid and parking it in orbit near the moon, so that NASA astronauts can later explore it.

The images explain how the asteroid could be captured. The robotic capture vehicle uses solar electric propulsion technology. Once near the asteroid, a massive canopy resembling a hot-air balloon unfolds in accordion fashion to envelop the asteroid.

This image shows what capturing an asteroid could look like. NASA will enhance its detection and characterization capabilities, accelerate solar electric propulsion technology development and begin the design of the overall mission.
NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab

The animated video shown here explains what the crew's mission could entail. After the asteroid is captured, an Orion spacecraft and crew will launch from the Space Launch System. It will take about 9 days to reach the parked asteroid.

The crew will then hook up to the robotic capture vehicle and prepare for a spacewalk, during which they'll collect asteroid fragments and capture images to bring back to Earth. NASA estimates that the astronauts will need about six days hooked up to the robotic capture vehicle. Once they've collected enough material, the Orion spacecraft will make the 10-day journey back to Earth.

NASA will further discuss the proposals and how to incorporate ideas from multiple proposals into the overall mission concept when it meets at a technical workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. The event will be available to the public via the web, with details to be announced in mid September.

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.