Op-Ed: Good news for a change — NASA proves there’s a defense against killer asteroids
1:56 August 17, 2013
When a NASA meteorologist was asked why the space agency had launched the Hayabusa spacecraft to fly around an asteroid, she gave a simple answer. “Because the mission was to prove it’s possible,” she said.
As it turns out, that mission was just that — a mission. And now, after a year of asteroid rendezvous, Hayabusa’s mission is over. But its lessons are not. NASA announced Thursday that Hayabusa ended its mission exactly one year ago, on Friday, August 11, as part of the agency’s new Asteroid Redirect Missions program.
“This mission was not only about proving that we can do it but about really doing it,” said David Tholen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “So for the foreseeable future, all future asteroid rendezvous missions will have a similar program.”
That’s not to say there isn’t any new ground to be covered, as NASA prepares to launch NASA’s first asteroid mission in 2020. The agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) seeks to bring to bear a powerful suite of science payloads to bring a small boulder of the rocky kind slamming into Earth — the kind of asteroid that could cause catastrophic damage to our planet — into safe orbit around the moon. It’s a mission not just designed to demonstrate that we are a space agency worth spending billions on, but also a test of our ability to do something new in space.
“This mission was one small step in proving that we can do these missions, that we have the skills to do these missions,” Tholen said. “We’re going to do more than one mission of this size.”
The asteroid program has been a long time coming. It took the space agency a decade after Apollo to find a space rock to return to the Moon. In the meantime, NASA had found other avenues to study the solar system. A number of those missions have now come to a natural conclusion, most recently in May with