Report from the Exploration of Near-Earth Objects Objectives Workshop
This week, Jennifer Vaughn and I are representing the Planetary Society at NASA's Exploration of Near-Earth Objects (NEO) Objectives Workshop, or ExploreNOW. The meeting is being held in Washington DC. Roughly a couple hundred people from a wide range of backgrounds have been brought together at this invitation-only 2-day meeting. We are discussing the exploration of near Earth objects and asteroids, particularly future human missions to NEOs.
So far, there have been many overview presentations this morning. Speakers covered topics from why go to a NEO, to what the benefits would be for planetary defense and science, to results of some previous related mission and technology studies. Speakers also covered tentative plans for ways forward, including international cooperation aspects. The morning ended with an update on the Japanese Hayabusa mission, the only mission to have returned samples from a near-Earth asteroid.
So, why go to an asteroid with humans? Former astronaut and asteroid planetary scientist Tom Jones, a member of the Planetary Society's Advisory Council, gave an excellent overview of the arguments, which he broke down into 5 things:
accessibility -- NEOs actually require less propulsion to get to than the surface of the Moon;
science of our origins -- asteroids preserve evidence of early solar system formation;
human survival -- these are the same objects that can impact Earth and cause widespread destruction, and human missions would provide information, such as physical properties, about the visited asteroids that would help us better understand how to deflect them;
resources for exploration -- asteroids contain materials, including some fraction of water, that could be used for further exploration; and
stepping stones to Mars -- various aspects of operations and technology can be developed and used for NEO missions that will apply to missions to Mars.
I'm of course enjoying collecting a lot of great Random Space Facts, including: asteroid Itokawa that Hayabusa visited is only a little bit more than 5 times the length of the International Space Station. I'll have more random space facts, as well as some meeting updates on Twitter @RandomSpaceFact.
Here are Itokawa and the International Space Station as it appeared in 2007, both shown at the same scale of 2 meters per pixel: