Continued from page 2

Once in space, the ship needs a propulsion system to get it to the asteroid. One way is to use traditional chemical propulsion, but that would require carrying lots of hard-to-store fuel and creation of a new storage system, Joosten said.

Another way is to use ion propulsion, which is efficient and requires less fuel, but it is enormously slow to rev up and gain speed. It would also require an electrical ignition source, thus the giant solar power wings.

If NASA goes to ion propulsion, the best bet would be to start the bulk of the ship on a trip to and around the moon without astronauts. That would take a while, but if no one is on it, it doesn’t matter, Joosten said. Then when that ship is far from Earth, astronauts aboard Orion would dock and join the rest of the trip. By this time, the ship would have picked up sufficient speed and keep on accelerating.

Orion isn’t big enough for four astronauts to live on for a year. They would need a larger space habitat, a place where they can exercise to keep from losing bone strength in zero gravity. They would need a place to store food, sleep and most importantly a storm shelter to protect them from potentially deadly and radiation-loaded solar flares.

Much of the habitat could be inflatable, launched in a lightweight form, and inflated in space. On Friday, NASA announced a competition among four universities to design potential exploration habitats.

Meanwhile NASA is pursuing its concept for a mini-spaceship exploration vehicle, about the size of a minivan. And it’s planning an underwater lab for training, an effort to mimic an asteroid mission’s challenges, Joosten said.

Leshin notes 2025 is not that many years away: “There’s a lot of things we need to invent and build between now and then.”



NASA animation of a possible asteroid mission:

NASA’s exploration office:

NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta: