The United States is making progress on achieving its goal of sending the first human mission to an asteroid, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said today, after briefing the United Nations body that fosters international cooperation in space research and exploration on the initiative.
“Aside from advancing our understanding of the nature of these mysterious objects and how we might protect our planet from them, this initiative will provide valuable experience in future mission planning and operations,” Charles Bolden told a news conference in Vienna, a day after his first address to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
“These missions will include, but not be limited to, future crewed deep-space missions, including our planned visit to Mars.”
Presenting NASA’s plan, Mr. Bolden said that President Barack Obama has set a goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the 2030s.
“We are on track for fulfilling those goals and are making progress in developing the launch vehicle and spacecraft needed to carry astronauts to the deep space destinations of an asteroid and Mars,” he stated.
The asteroid initiative comprises two distinct yet related activities: the mission to redirect an asteroid to an orbit closer to Earth so humans can travel to it, and an effort to improve the detection, characterization, and mitigation planning for potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA will pursue these two complementary activities simultaneously.
“The centrepiece of our asteroid initiative is the first-ever attempt to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid,” said Mr. Bolden, who added that the initiative will engage the expertise of every part of NASA as well as America’s scientific, academic, aerospace, and manufacturing industries in a collaborative effort that will benefit all humankind.
“We envision an important role in this initiative for international participation as well,” he said.
Mazlan Othman, Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), welcomed the asteroid initiative. “We need initiatives such as these to continue capture the imagination of everyone and inspire us to make space work for the benefit of humankind,” she told the news conference.
Since its inception, UNOOSA has played an important role in fostering international cooperation for the benefit of all countries in a number of areas of space research, applications, operations and space exploration.
Ms. Othman noted that the issue of Near-Earth Objects has long been on the Committee’s agenda. “The United Nations is uniquely positioned to be the platform for international cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space,” she stated.
Mr. Bolden noted that, since its inception, NASA has vigorously supported the goals of the UN and its various space-related entities, including UNOOSA and COPUOS.
“President Obama and I share the belief that the success of our modern space programmes will be judged in part on how well we continue to make space exploration a global partnership,” he stated.