According to NASA, the Asteroid Redirect Mission will pave the way for the manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, the challenge set forth by President Barack Obama in2010. As part of the mission, after NASA sends a near-Earth Object (NEO) to a safe orbit, the space agency will send astronauts to explore and collect samples of the asteroid, to occur in the 2020s.
NASA is accepting proposals for innovations in asteroid-capture systems, rendezvous sensors and commercial spacecraft modifications, as well as studies for future commercial partnerships.
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, said in a statement, “To reach Mars, we’ll rely on new technologies and advanced capabilities proven through the Asteroid Initiative. We’re looking forward to exciting ideas from outside NASA as well to help realize that vision.”
The Asteroid Redirect Mission proposal due date is May 5, with the award date scheduled for July 1. NASA says the contract will run through 2014. The call for proposals comes after NASA’s announcement of the first Asteroid Grand Challenge Contest. The space agency is putting up $35,000 in reward money, and the first contest involves developing improved asteroid-detecting algorithms.
These missions are part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative which includes the Asteroid Redirect Mission as well as the Grand Challenge to find all potential asteroid threats. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has established the Near Earth Object Program, which tracks asteroids and comets and also assesses potential impact risk.
NASA is not the only one concerned about NEOs, as the United Nations will head a defense plan called the International Asteroid Warning Group. The new technology incorporated in the asteroid mission, such as the Orion Spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket, will be vital for the future mission to Mars. NASA has scheduled an Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum for March 26 that will include updates on the mission and the Grand Challenge.