Hideshi Kozawa, a senior advisor to the new president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Naoki Okumura, noted that Japan already has returned samples from an asteroid on its Hayabusa mission, and is developing Hayabusa-2. “It’s a good chance for Japan to show our technology to other partners,” he says.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the ESA director general, noted that ESA and DLR are partners in the Rosetta mission, which will land on a comet next year, and said ESA might want a role in the U.S. mission.
“This is a very interesting project, and as I already told Charlie Bolden, we are ready to see how ESA can contribute to such a mission,” Dordain says.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, was among the first to cast doubt on the mission’s political viability.
“Hardworking taxpayers are tired of watching the government borrow and spend money it doesn’t have,” said Smith. “While getting points for creativity, a proposed NASA mission to ‘lasso’ an asteroid and drag it to the Moon’s orbit will require serious deliberation. Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”
The multiyear cost of the venture to identify and robotically capture and maneuver a 500-ton asteroid into a stable lunar orbit for a visit by U.S. astronauts as soon as 2021 could become clear later this year. Agency officials believe the $2.6 billion cost attached to a similar mission proposal developed by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at CalTech last year can be reduced substantially by a combination of activities already under way within the agency.
“We have had to make some really tough choices with this budget,” Bolden noted in introductory remarks. “But we think we have done our best to make really prudent decisions and that NASA will be using its resources strategically for a unified, cohesive exploration program that raises the bar for what humans can achieve.”
However, he emphasized the blueprint unravels quickly if Congress and the White House are unable to eliminate sequestration in 2014 and the outyears. “I don’t do magic,” Bolden stressed when he was questioned about the agency’s future by a House appropriations panel last month.
The impacts of sequestration and a smaller rescission reduced proposed NASA spending of $17.7 billion in 2013 to about $16.6 billion when applied against the budget Continuing Resolution agreed to by Congress and the president in March. NASA’s operating plan for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 with more precise estimates will be presented to lawmakers by May 10.