Op-Ed: Good news for a change — NASA proves there’s a defense against killer asteroids
In his recent book “The Next Step for Space Exploration,” former astronaut and NASA’s former chief scientist Charles Bolden writes about how in the past two decades, the pace of advances in robotic and human spaceflight technology has been astonishing. “With the development of space-based technologies, we have come closer and closer to making our manned trips to space routine and routine.”
“We’ve used robotics to take control of objects with zero-G accelerations that are not man-made and push them to our destinations,” says Bolden, who is also the director of the National Academy of Engineering. “We’ve built spacecraft with completely different structures, materials and designs, but we can change the nature of the way we operate in space to adapt to a greater variety of situations.”
The recent robotic moon landings are just one example of this capability.
Bolden’s book details the history of robotic space exploration and how we’ve used technology to make spaceflight routine in the past 60 years. He also highlights the advances in spaceflight technology that take place more quickly every day.
One of the advances that Bolden says we’ve seen over the last few decades is the technology of autonomous ships that fly by in formation. In his book Bolden calls this “a major achievement for humankind,” and likens it to the ability to operate human flight like a helicopter.
In addition to the ability to fly by itself in formation, these ships can now fly by themselves around asteroids — and one of the main advantages of these “asteroid rovers” is that they can safely orbit around an asteroid to search for buried water- or breathable oxygen.
NASA’s new “Habitable Zone” mission
In September 2015, NASA launched the HABITAT, or Habitable Zone, mission, which will use six robotic spacecraft to examine a near-Earth-sized celestial body that is thought to be capable of supporting life.
The mission will examine the so-called “Goldilocks Zone,” a region in the inner main belt where temperatures