--> --> Abstract: The Near Earth Asteroids as the First Step on the Way to Mars, by Bruce L. Cutright; #90124 (2011)

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Making the Next Giant Leap in Geosciences
April 10-13, 2011, Houston, Texas, USA

The Near Earth Asteroids as the First Step on the Way to Mars

Bruce L. Cutright1

(1) Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.

We have identified, as of July, 2010, over 7,100 near earth asteroids, 810 of which are greater than one kilometer in diameter and 149 that are identified as potentially hazardous earth impactors by NASA’s Near Earth Objects Program. This paper examines the advantages of exploring and exploitation of the near earth asteroids as the first component of a larger space exploration program and provides arguments for revising our focus on chemical rocket propulsion systems for effective space exploration. The recent cancelation of NASA’s Constellation program has shifted the emphasis of the US space program from returning to the moon to exploring Mars and the asteroids. The Apollo program and the Viking, Pathfinder and Mars Rover programs developed a significant body of information on the composition and characteristics of the Moon and Mars. We have progressed to the point that we can manufacture simulated Lunar and Martian regoliths for experimentation with extraction of useful materials for life support, construction materials and development of traction and weight-bearing capabilities for exploration vehicles. Although the near earth asteroids have not attracted the public attention that the Moon and Mars have, they represent the easiest accessible sources of fuels, minerals and life support materials once off the Earth’s surface. Further, expanding our knowledge of the asteroids, their composition and dynamics, addresses two critical parameters; the asteroids provide fundamental information about the origin of the inner planets and solar system, and detailed information on their orbital dynamics is the only way of predicting the fate of earth crossing, and potentially earth impacting asteroids. Missions such as the Japan Hayabusa sample return program, ESA’s Rosetta program and the NASA’s Deep Space-1, NEAR and Stardust programs have provided excellent information on the mineralogy, metallic and volatile content of the near-earth asteroids as well as information on the engineering properties of the asteroid bodies themselves. In addition, the collections of meteorites’ that have fallen to earth and subsequently analyzed extensively provide a greater volume of direct samples than what is available from the Lunar return missions. From these analyses it is clear that the near earth asteroids represent an extremely valuable reservoir of strategic metals and volatiles that can support an expanded asteroids-Moon-Mars exploration effort.