Robots and Astronauts Will Defend the Earth

JAN 25, 2013 03:16 AM ET // BY RAY VILLARD

My colleague Ian O’Neill has described one of the most unique interplanetary missions in the history of space exploration, and I’d say also one of the most important technological steps in the evolution of the human species.

The Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission to a binary asteroid will be the first precise test as to whether, sometime in the future, a deadly asteroid barreling toward Earth could be knocked off course by whacking it with a projectile.

In addition to hitting an asteroid, the AIDA close encounter will provide valuable information on rotation, gravity, geology, and surface properties, around the pair of asteroids gravitationally embraced in a binary orbit.

The tag-team of two spacecraft will help set the stage for an eventual human rendezvous with near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) as proposed by the Obama administration.

An asteroid visit by the first interplanetary astronaut team would allow for in-depth scientific surveys of a 4 billion year old primordial body. As with the Apollo lunar missions, astronaut EVAs on an asteroid’s surface could collect different rock samples more efficiently than robots alone. This same paradigm holds true for sending humans to Mars, the rocky dwarf planet Ceres, or and other (survivable) body in the solar system.

Read more: Robots and Astronauts Will Defend the Earth : Discovery News.

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