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Caitlin Hofmeister walks you through NASA's planned Asteroid Retrieval Mission, which aims to capture a space-rock and put it in lunar orbit for study -- all by 2025!

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Sources:
http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/756122main_Asteroid%20Redirect%20Mission%20Reference%20Concept%20Description.pdf
http://scitechdaily.com/nasas-near-earth-object-observations-program-discovers-ten-thousandth-neo/
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/21/us-space-mining-asteroids-idUSBRE9AK0JF20131121
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25716103
http://www.space.com/25178-nasa-asteroid-capture-mission-targets.html
Welcome to SciShow Space News. I’m Caitlin Hofmeister, your host on our first voyage together. So tell me how this sounds to you. We build a robot, huck it into space, use it to grab a thousand ton asteroid and park it in orbit around the Moon so astronauts can walk around on it, because I think that sounds awesome. And that’s exactly what NASA’s planning to do.

Since 1998, NASA’s Near Earth Object Observation Program has been searching local space for comets and asteroids that might kill us. So far it’s identified over 10,000 nearby asteroids, and now NASA scientists are ramping up their plan to use that data to take rock collection to a whole new level. A few days ago, NASA invited tech companies everywhere to help build the technology they’ll need for their new asteroid retrieval mission.

Asteroids have the potential to be a mind-boggling source of raw materials. A space rock just 500 meters across could contain more precious metals than humanities entire known reserve. One large asteroid between Mars and Jupiter named 16 Psyche is thought to hold 17 million billion tons of nickel and iron, enough to satisfy demand on Earth for millions of years. Plus, asteroids contain water which could be used as a source of fuel for rockets en route to Mars. So harvesting asteroids could probably be a crucial component of any serious attempt at colonizing Mars. The problem is that all that stuff is out there in space. Meanwhile, asteroids and Earth have a long history together and it’s full of drama.

So, the first step in harnessing all the goodness from these rocks is to bring one home for us to study. In 2017 or 18, NASA plans to launch the first asteroid redirect vehicle which basically looks like a 50-kilowatt solar-power array attached to a really giant sack. Using solar power, it'll fly out to whichever asteroid NASA picks, taking about two years to get there, and when it arrives at the rock it'll just bag it. Then it'll pull the asteroid out of its orbit so that it spirals in towards us just in time to get pulled into the lunar orbit by the Moon’s gravity, a whole process that’ll take another 2-5 years.

After that, the vehicle will park the asteroid in what scientists call a distant retrograde orbit, some 70,000 kilometers above the surface of the Moon. And then it’s just a 25 day trip for a crew of two to fly out there and see what’s up. NASA predicts that astronauts will be visiting our adopted asteroid by 2025 to inspect it, collect samples and eventually dismantle it. It’ll be our closest look ever at the structure and composition of an asteroid.

So there you have it. Space factories and Martian colonies might be a long way off, but we’re developing the technology we’ll need to make them happen right now.

Thanks for joining me for SciShow Space News, especially to our Subbable subscribers who make this channel possible. If you’d like a little bit of SciShow for yourself, like a SciShow tie or chocolate bar, go to subbable.com/scishow to learn more. And if you have questions or ideas for an episode you’d like to see, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter and, as always, in the comments below. And if you want to keep getting smarter with us, go to youtube.com/scishowspace and subscribe.