It’s been a goal of NASA for at least 50 years. A space agency will one day make it to an asteroid. Well, they’re close. A spacecraft that never leaves the Earth’s orbit was launched this weekend and will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere around May 31.
That’s right, our good neighbors and unlikely futurists the Russians, Chinese, Indian, and Koreans are pretty much the only players left.
NASA’s Deep Space Network is tracking the craft with a network of geosynchronous ground stations. The spacecraft is the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), and it will orbit about 300 miles above Earth’s surface, delivering Earth-observing data to ground stations at the moment of impact.
If successful, this will be the first space mission to visit a small and vulnerable asteroid. That’s significant because NASA wants to learn more about how and why asteroids are forming; asteroids form from vast collections of protons and neutrons in the leftover crust of dying stars and are the building blocks of planets.
Most asteroids are around half a mile wide, though new ones can emerge a hundred years or more after their formation. Unsurprisingly, asteroids seem to swing by Earth every two or three years, slamming into the surface and erupting in near misses. It’s also estimated that Earth will pass by an asteroid every 60 years.
Taste for conquest? Yes.
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It’s another end in the march of conquering by the technological elite.
This is another frontier; it’s part of a first-of-its-kind development that puts human beings farther out into the solar system than any other human being has ever been. (I imagine we’ll be quite fascinated by images of our planet from behind these icy blast walls.)
NASA wants to be the first to reach an asteroid, and we’re probably in line to do it. But it may not be the last we’ll see an asteroid (or comets) in orbit around the Earth.
This is a celebration of how far we’ve come since Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon.
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Note: For those of you who think Gold Star families are important, please remember that the Explorers Club, which includes astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn, was founded by families of military pioneers who achieved renown in their chosen careers. It was originally organized as an honor society, with members required to serve as guides to the ideals they espoused.
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