NASA is Training Up an Astronaut Crew for a Potential Manned Asteroid Mission

Asteroid Eros

This spud-shaped rock is asteroid 433 Eros. Gregory W. Nemitz claimed to own it and aims to develop it. In 2003, he sued NASA in search of parking fees after the NEAR spacecraft alighted on it.NEAR Project/NLR/JHUAPL/NASA

We haven't heard much about if from NASA yet, but the Telegraph is reporting that the space agency will soon begin training up an international crew of astronauts for a potential manned mission to an asteroid slated for later in the next decade. Starting next month, six astronauts are headed to the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation (NEEMO), the underwater habitat off the Florida coast that will serve as a simulator for the long duration mission to an asteroid, the UK outlet reports.

The multinational team of asteroid astronauts, which includes Britain's first official astronaut with the European Space Agency, will spend its time living in tight quarters 65 feet beneath the ocean surface for 12 days, during which time crew members will undertake simulated spacewalks on the seafloor and learn to pilot vehicles in much the same way they would if they were working in proximity to an asteroid.

A manned asteroid mission would of course be unprecedented (if the private sector doesn't get there first), operating far beyond mankind's furthest point of exploration on the moon's surface. A trip to an asteroid could take astronauts up to three million miles away. It would likely take a year to make the round trip, and astronauts might remain there for up to a month.

Details of NASA's vision for such a mission are to be presented to the international community at the Japan Geoscience Union meeting later this month. The agency will also present details underlying a robotic asteroid rendezvous mission that it hopes will return samples from an asteroid by 2016 as a precursor to any manned mission.