NASA, the US space agency has revealed plans to delve further in to space than ever before. A team of astronauts are being trained to land on asteroids, with plans afoot to make contact with an asteroid up to three million miles away from earth, by 2030.
This ambitious move compares to the 239,000 miles travelled by astronauts to reach the moon – the current record for human exploration.
The astronauts are being trained to land on the asteroids, which often travel of speeds of 50,000 miles per hour, to explore the surface, operating vehicles and taking samples. They will also be trained in the skills needed to destroy the space rock, if it poses a threat to earth.
NASA is currently monitoring over 400 such objects, with the potential to hit earth, although most of these are considered to be low risk.
Amongst those preparing for this kind of mission, is Major Tim Peake, a former British Army helicopter test pilot, who is now the first official British astronaut with the European Space Agency.
Along with five other astronauts, Major Peake, will spend 12 days living in an underwater base off the coast of Florida, 65 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean to simulate working in the difficult low gravity environment of an asteroid. They will share a 43 feet long by 20 feet wide underwater capsule where they will live, eat and sleep as part of the Nasa Extreme Environment Mission Operation, or NEEMO.
In an interview in the Telegraph, Major Peake said: “With the technology we have available and are developing today, an asteroid mission of up to a year is definitely achievable.
“These objects are also coming extremely close to Earth all the time, but we rarely hear about it. In the last year we had an asteroid come within Earth’s geostationary orbit, which is closer than some satellites.
“With enough warning we would probably send a robotic mission to deflect an asteroid, but if something is spotted late and is big enough we might come into Armageddon type scenarios where we may have to look at manned missions to deflect it.”
The round trip for a manned mission to an asteroid three million miles away, could take up to a year, including a 30 day stay on the asteroid surface.
Officials will say that such missions to asteroids could help test technology for future human missions to other planets including Mars.
Major Peake added: “I would love to go on an asteroid mission. There is a possibility that if things continue at a good pace an asteroid mission could happen within the 2020s and that is within the operational time frame of myself and the other ESA astronauts.”