When I was here about a month ago, I mentioned that you should keep watching for ways to engage with NASA on asteroids and Redditor 21p99c asked for an AMA on the subject. So: here it is. In addition to NASA’s mission to find, capture and redirect, and then send humans to explore a near Earth asteroid, we need to find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them. Yes, we’re going to save the world (and no, we’re not doing it Bruce Willis style). Ask me anything about NASA’s asteroid plans and how you can help.

Proof: https://twitter.com/NASA/status/349560455540387841

Update: Thanks everyone for another great set of questions. If my schedule allows, I'll come back and answer a few more questions. Tune in to the latest for what we're doing with asteroids at http://www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative and I hope you'll be a part of our effort.

Update: Dropped in this morning to answer a few more questions. Also to let you know that if you have ideas for NASA's asteroid initiative, you can send them to us by responding to the Request for Information. More about that here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/asteroids/initiative/asteroid-rfi.html

Comments: 358 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

harryslotwiner62 karma

When is it estimated that NASA will be able to send people to an asteroid?

NASATechnology87 karma

The President's goal is for NASA to do so by 2025. If we find the right asteroid, we'll be able to do so as early as 2021. We'll use mostly hardware we've already got and are already working on, including the SLS launch vehicle and the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle.

FuzzySAM38 karma

How does the President propose to achieve this goal when he cut NASA funding? Or did the funding cut not hit this program?

Also, is there a plan to bring one home?

NASATechnology75 karma

In fact, it's the President's 2014 budget request that enables NASA to do this. The entire initiative is in the 2014 budget, which is publicly available, and the White House has been fully supportive of both the asteroid mission and the Grand Challenge.

FaxingMars38 karma

What is your plan for human space flight when the International Space station is finished?

NASATechnology86 karma

We'll visit an asteroid by 2025 to teach ourselves how to visit Mars a decade later. This is going to happen comparatively soon! It's an exciting continuation of NASA's 50 years of human space exploration.

le_troll_hunter30 karma

2 questions sir...

1)How much time do you think it will take for us to successfully capture and harvest resources from asteroids for use on earth ?

2) Do you have any potential asteroid candidates so far? How do you shortlist potential asteroids?

NASATechnology34 karma

1) That's a question for some of those companies proposing to mine asteroids. If I were to speculate, I'd say that our nation is decades away from this business becoming mainstream, but the sooner it starts, the sooner we'll see it happen. 2) I think I answered this one elsewhere in this AMA, but thanks!

t4tat228 karma


NASATechnology39 karma

Very low. None of the asteroids we have found are expected to impact the earth in the foreseeable future. And we have found most of the largest asteroids. There are still many smaller ones that remain undetected. That's the current challenge: where are those asteroids, and do they pose a threat?

dafuq_dude19 karma

How big or small are we talking here? What qualifies an asteroid to be "big"?

NASATechnology40 karma

The asteroid that blew up over Chelyabinsk in February was only about 17 meters across. That did a lot of damage. We have detected about 95% of the asteroids larger than 1000 meters (1 km). But there are thousands within that range, large enough to strike the Earth but too small to have been detected yet. Again, through the Grand Challenge, we're looking for YOU to help NASA find them. The asteroid we hope to redirect into lunar orbit would be 7-10 m, which is small enough not to be a hazard even if it were to enter Earth's atmosphere (which it won't).

dafuq_dude23 karma

How am I supposed to help find them? That doesn't make sense, could you elaborate? For example, I have a crappy beginners telescope, but how the F am I supposed to help NASA... Freaking NASA find an asteroid?

NASATechnology52 karma

Thank you for asking! This is at the core of the Grand Challenge. We are looking for very new ideas. I'll give you an example. The Minor Planets Center has an immense database of observational information available for public use. How about some new software that analyzes data we've already got? How about fusing together tens, hundreds, thousands, of small-telescope observations through a new data-analysis technique to characterize and track known asteroids? How about a new product: a make-it-yourself device that sits on the end of anyone's home telescope and transmits observation data through Bluetooth to the internet? I can think of several admittedly far-out answers, but I think you and the rest of the nation can think of many more. That's why we're trying to "crowdsource" answers here--to leverage the creativity and energy that we know is out there.

Prufrock45125 karma

Does the Outer Space Treaty apply to plans to mine asteroids? Are there any plans or mechanisms to reserve specific asteroids for scientific study?

NASATechnology32 karma

NASA's plans involve using an asteroid for scientific and human-exploration purposes. As you know, there are other organizations out there considering how to use asteroids for commercial purposes. They'll have to consider the implications of the treaty.

_artfag24 karma

I'm an idiot on this subject, and please forgive me. So are you guys going to... blowup, asteroids? Like with a missile or something?

NASATechnology33 karma

The asteroid initiative includes plans to send a robotic spacecraft to move a small asteroid into an orbit near the moon. It also includes a Grand Challenge in which we ask for the world to engage with NASA to identify the threats asteroids pose to human populations and then know what to do about them. The Grand Challenge addresses your question. There are many ideas about how to keep an asteroid from hitting the Earth, but the best offense is a good defense: know where they are, and the sooner we know, the easier it will be to deflect them.

t0rt01s313 karma

What is the point/what can be gained from moving a small asteroid into orbit near the moon?

NASATechnology43 karma

So much! We'll learn how to send humans beyond Earth orbit, using technologies that will take us to Mars in the following decade. The moon is relatively convenient and safe, compared to trying out these systems for the first time in Mars orbit. So, this is a very cost-effective and yet ambitious way to make a lot of progress towards exploring Mars.

We're going to send the first, robotic spacecraft under the power of solar-electric propulsion (SEP). So, this mission will be a technology demonstration of a technique that is broadly applicable across NASA's portfolio and will help the commercial space industry as well. Our plans are to use a 30-50 kW SEP system here, which is traceable to at least 10x that level. This is a bold move, depending on a technology demo. That audacity recalls Apollo and the other work that has made NASA great.

dafuq_dude12 karma

How exactly does one land anything on an asteroid? Aren't those things moving at an incredibly fast rate?

NASATechnology32 karma

Great point. When a spacecraft performs a rendezvous, it matches the speed of the target. In this case, the spacecraft will have been given a lot of energy by its launch, and we'll keep adjusting the velocity with electric propulsion until the spacecraft catches up to the asteroid. Also, we will have selected an asteroid with a trajectory that our spacecraft can attain. When the speeds match, and the spacecraft is in the right position, the spacecraft would grapple with the asteroid or select a boulder from its surface (or one of several other possible mission architectures). There have been other missions that have already successfully done some thing similar: Stardust, NEAR, and the Japanese Hayabusa 1 missions, for example.

mrkrabz199124 karma

If an meteorite (similar to the one that recently hit Russia) was headed towards Time Square or Washington D.C., how much time would you need to deflect it? What could be done about it? Does NASA or the government have any current contingency plans for this?

NASATechnology39 karma

Probably it would not take long for the thrust from a small spacecraft to deflect an asteroid that size (months? just a guess off the top of my head). But we would need even more time to prepare the spacecraft, launch it, and rendezvous with the asteroid. That's a reminder that technology for building spacecraft rapidly and providing ready access to space are part of the broader problem of protecting the planet.

monocoque50 karma

so what you're trying to say is that Armageddon wasn't exactly a documentary

NASATechnology53 karma


thesherm22 karma

If your team ACTUALLY DID find an Asteroid 'the size of Texas' hurling towards Earth and bound to impact in 18 days - would your first instinct be to gather a rag-tag team of deep sea oil drillers to drill a nuke into the center of it?

NASATechnology42 karma

Just like Hollywood likes to remake movies, we're thinking that we'll do Armageddon a little differently next time.

tmeijome20 karma

What did you pursue in college/graduate work and how did you get to where you are today?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

NASATechnology43 karma

I started out studying English. In fact, I have a Master's degree in medieval literature. Later on I got a B.S. and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. My first job was at Hughes (now part of Boeing), and then I worked for Honeywell, all of which was great experience. I came to NASA from a faculty position at Cornell, to which I'll return eventually when my time here is over. I wouldn't suggest that path for everyone, though! Keep it simple!

Mathea66619 karma

What is the technologically hardest part of getting to an asteroid?

NASATechnology30 karma

I'll give you my top three for the redirect mission overall. We'll need high-efficiency propulsion to ensure that the trip can be done without using a lot of propellant mass. We'll need high-precision navigation, particularly for the rendezvous with the asteroid. And we'll need the grappling, or robotic-manipulation hardware. Remember, we're assembling the pieces of this mission from capabilities that already exist or are planned for this timeframe. We're leveraging a lot of great work to make this happen.

Universu18 karma

Is it possible to put a Habitat Laboratory Module (HLM) on the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle (ARV)?

NASATechnology22 karma

Well, it's mostly a matter of resources. But the benefits to human exploration are very clear here, even without adding a habitat: we'll learn about how to help astronauts survive the deep-space radiation environment, and we'll learn how to operate long-term life-support systems, how to navigate outside Earth orbit, and the list goes on. And we'll accomplish these goals using hardware we've been building for years, even before this asteroid initiative was announced.

dwarfbear15 karma

What do you think about Eve, asteroid farming, and the privatization of space travel? Do you think there is anything dangerous about it? Personally I think it could be a great way to further our reach into space and increase our precious resources bank.

NASATechnology23 karma

That's a big question. Let me narrow it down to one of resource utilization. At the moment, everything we use in space we also had to launch into space. What if we can change that ratio so that far more of what we use comes from the space environment? If we do, we'll make the cost of launching spacecraft a small part of the overall value of a science or exploration mission. We'll need advanced manufacturing techniques to turn regolith or space debris into usable hardware, but NASA, DARPA, and others are already getting to work on this problem. The solution is what I've called "massless exploration," and we think it will change the economics of space.

Erroneous178714 karma

Do you have any asteroids in mind for your 2021 - 2025 date?

If so approximately how much energy would it take to change the trajectory to a lunar orbit?

NASATechnology17 karma

There are a few asteroids we already know about, but none are baselined. We expect to detect many more in the next few years, thanks to an increased effort in NASA's Near-Earth Object observation program. While we're looking for these objects, we'll also discover a lot more that may pose a hazard; so, the exploration activities and the Grand Challenge go hand in hand. www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative has the presentations from last Tuesday's roll-out event. Bill Gerstenmaier's presentation provides some detail on the orbit mechanics.

jcps13 karma

What is the timeline for this? Is this something that we can use to inspire the current generation to go into STEM fields?

NASATechnology17 karma

Depending on what asteroid(s) we identify as viable candidates, we expect to send the robotic spacecraft in a few years (launch ~2017-2018 and rendezvous ~2019), and the human mission in roughly 2021-2025. It's really just around the corner! Yes, I think this is uniquely inspiring for all of us.

ToastOfTheToasted12 karma

Do you believe that increased public and government support of asteroid related activities is a direct result of the Cheylabinsk meteoroid?

In addition what are your thoughts on the commercialization of space travel? Specifically do you think that the Outer Space treaty should force corporate entities to be merely additional arms of the government?

NASATechnology14 karma

That Chelyabinsk event probably encouraged the public to think about this, but NASA's planning for this initiative started more than a year ago. And we've been doing asteroid-detection work for decades. In fact, it was Congress that most recently set NASA on the course of discovering all the asteroids greater than 140 m in diameter.

Cristhel8 karma

Hello Mr, Peck, you just said you're asking for the world to engage with NASA to identify the threats asteroids pose to human populations and then know what to do about them. Does that imply we can actually (people from ALL over the world) have a part in your decision of how to stop the thread?

NASATechnology11 karma


gfunkadunkalus6 karma

What's the most prevalent thought on how to avoid a large asteroids from hitting Earth?

I thought Bruce Willis and Been Affleck, but I saw you said that's not going to happen.

NASATechnology16 karma

Again, deflecting the asteroid (if we know its trajectory early enough) can be accomplished in many ways. One would be to land a small spacecraft and apply low thrust for many years. Alternatively, use a means to change the spectral properties (color, brightness) of the asteroid to encourage solar pressure to nudge it out of Earth's way. In fact, we're looking for other good ideas as part of the Grand Challenge, ideas that individuals or institutions like universities could demonstrate in small scale.

Nebulious2 karma

Dr. Peck, what's your criteria for which asteroid to visit? Are you thinking of just minimal delta V, or are you vying for a specific composition? Personally, I'm very interested in asteroid mining and would like to see a visit to one with a high ice content.

NASATechnology3 karma

NASA would choose one that balances the science opportunities with the human-space objectives and the technological capabilities to be demonstrated. This mission represents NASA’s contemporary way of doing things, where we successfully integrate human-space and science objectives, while at the same time we’re taking bold steps in technology to make it all work. Let’s also remember that NASA’s overall asteroid strategy encompasses a lot more than this initiative. We’ve got a fantastic mission coming up, OSIRIS-Rex (http://osiris-rex.lpl.arizona.edu/), which will return a very carefully chosen asteroid sample. The missions complement each other wonderfully, with OSIRIS-Rex teaching us about the origins of the solar system and the human mission teaching us about how to explore deep space.

Kijafa1 karma

What's the timeline on having a human rated rocket again?

NASATechnology2 karma

We expect NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) to have its first flight in late 2017—that’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1). But we’re also working with companies like Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to produce commercial launch vehicles for transporting cargo to the space station. These commercial capabilities are expected to provide human access to space in a few years. You’ve probably heard that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has successfully launched its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station twice, now, and returned it safely to earth. Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket just had its first, successful flight. We’re taking a competition-based approach brings out the best in our nation’s innovative technology companies, and it’s working out great: technologically successful and very quick.

WashedArugula1 karma

I don't think I totally understand. What benefits do humans have landing upon an asteroid? Mining? Signs of life? Just to say we did it?

NASATechnology2 karma

The robotic and human missions that will take us to an asteroid will create a capability to explore deep space. The President’s budget enables NASA to take the first step toward Mars, learning how to operate a spacecraft well beyond Earth orbit and enabling humans to survive the trip. We’re already building the crew vehicle (Orion) and the launch vehicle (SLS), and this ambitious mission architecture uses the test flights and technology demonstrations to accomplish something we would not be able to afford otherwise. But you have to do it to learn it—merely writing equations and creating computer models will not get us to Mars. And, yes, the asteroid samples we return will provide very valuable data to answer a number of scientific and technological questions.