Mark Brown –
Nasa is to reveal details of robotic and manned missions to near Earth asteroids at a Japanese conference in May 2012, according to the Telegraph.
In the agency’s report, which is to be presented to the Japan Geoscience Union Meeting, Nasa will reportedly announce plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016, and use a robotic arm to collect samples. In the late 2020s, a manned mission will follow.
The asteroid could be up to four million kilometres from the Earth. That’s a tad farther than the Moon, which is just 400,000 km away from our planet, but a lot closer than Mars which is about 56 million km away.
The entire trip would take around a year, and astronauts could stay on the space rock for up to a month.
Training for the mission will start in May. Six astronauts (one of them, Major Tim Peake, is the first official British astronaut with the European Space Agency) will be flown to an underwater base off the coast of Florida.
There, they’ll spend 12 days living 20 metres beneath the ocean.
The training mission — named Nasa Extreme Environment Mission Operation, or NEEMO — will apparently simulate working in the difficult low gravity environment of an asteroid.
The capsule will be 13 by six metres, and will require 12 hours of decompression before resurfacing.