Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Asteroid flyby a missed lander opportunity?

USA TODAY - With a large asteroid zipping into Earth's neighborhood on Nov. 8, coming closer than the moon, we asked a NASA expert whether a probe landing on the object, 2005 YU55, was ever an option. After all, NASA's space marching orders now include asteroid exploration as an option, and the space agency's Dawn mission had to venture out beyond the orbit of Mars to reach the 330-mile-wide asteroid Vesta this July. Why not visit the smaller, but interesting 2005 YU55 on its visit, given another one its size won't come this close until 2028? "It would be difficult," says asteroid expert Don Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The best asteroids for landings are nearby ones that follow nearly circular orbits like Earth, he says, in terms of rocket fuel costs. Asteroid 2005 YU55 instead follows an oval orbit that takes it from Venus to Mars and zips through the Earth-Moon system at 30,600 miles per hour, relative to Earth. "We would have to race to catch up to it," Yeomans says.


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