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NASA Arrives at Really Old, Really Big Asteroid July 18, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Beyond Earth.
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Get used to it.  Because once the space shuttles retire stuff like this is all your going to be hearing out of NASA for awhile.

 NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was captured into orbit around the massive asteroid Vesta after a 1.7 billion-mile journey and is preparing to begin a study of a surface that may date to the earliest era of the solar system, the space agency said Monday…

Vesta, 330 miles in diameter, is the second-most massive object in the asteroid belt and is believed to be the source of many meteorites that fall to Earth.

Dawn will continue to approach Vesta over the next three weeks, search for possible moons and make more navigation images. It begins gathering science data in August. Vesta’s gravitational pull on Dawn will be measured to more accurately determine the asteroid’s mass.

But I’m not bitter (no really, I’m not).  Projects like this will deliver more data for less cost and almost zero chance of the loss of human life.  It will help the space agency continue its duties in an age where NASA frankly doesn’t getting the funding (either in amount or stability) that it deserves.

But it’s not very exciting is it?  Hearing that NASA entered into orbit around a hunk of rock in the asteroid field is not, apart from a very small group, going to excite people.  Touting the benefits and positives of this kind of mission, real though they may be, is largely a waste of time if you can’t capture the imagination of the public.  Yes I realize that the private space sector will start to take over the actual act of getting people into space.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that but whether you’re for it or not you must realize that we still need NASA.

NASA once ignited an entire nation.  It pushed several generations to explore science and engineering.  It made people dream big.  We need NASA to do that for us again and this isn’t going to cut it.  Like it or not, “we’ve arrived at orbit around the asteroid” is never going to top “One small step for man…”

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Comments»

1. Luke Parrish - July 20, 2011

It needs to be done. Whether by NASA or not, I’m not sure. But my take is that when we get to actually having people land and live on/in the asteroids, that will be inspiring. Perhaps there could be a prize for the first organization to keep someone alive on the surface of an asteroid for 30 days or more.

2. mbbrown - July 20, 2011

Living and thriving on an asteroid would be amazing and would be the sort of thing that drive further manned exploration of space. The idea of a prize for keeping people alive is an interesting one, though I would certainly feel bad for the losers. 🙂

Unfortunately I don’t see NASA doing that anymore. It’s just cheaper and more efficient to send out probes and satellites, and in our current age of yearly budget debacles cost will likely rule all. Private firms will likely take up some of the slack but that doesn’t have the same “wow” factor. NASA wasn’t just another government agency, it represented something deeper. Then again, maybe that’s just me and my nostalgia talking.


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