NASA's Asteroid Redirection Mission (ARM) is an ambitious (and divisive) plan to take an asteroid, shunt it into lunar orbit, and then send astronauts to take a sample. The mission is a vital stepping-stone on the journey to Mars, and NASA has today announced how it will work.
Since the inception of ARM, there's been two options. Number one was to capture an entire, very small asteroid and redirect it to the moon. The second is to land a craft on a bigger asteroid, lift off a 12m chunk, and tow it to the moon for examination. In a press conference today, NASA announce that it's going with the snatch 'n grab version.
There are two main reasons for going with option B. Firstly, there are a lot more targets -- big asteroids near the moon are more plentiful than small ones. Secondly, landing a robot on an asteroid will give NASA a better chance to test out technology that will eventually take humans to Mars.
The final asteroid selection isn't expected to be made until 2019, with the mission launching in 2020, and arriving at the asteroid two years later. From there, the craft would grab a boulder and conduct a few other pieces of research, managing to drag its trophy back to the moon by 2025.
That sets up the human asteroid exploration for sometime after EM-2, NASA's second real-world test mission for the Space Launch System and Orion capsule, currently scheduled for 2021. [NASA via SpaceNews]