(MSNBC) "A human mission to a near-Earth asteroid would be scientifically worthwhile," said Chris McKay, deputy scientist in the Constellation science office at Johnson Space Center. "It could be part of an overall program of understanding these objects. Also, it would be useful, instrumentally, in terms of understanding the threat they pose to the Earth." [...]
"There's a lot of public resonance with this notion that NASA ought to be doing something about killer asteroids...to be able to send serious equipment to an asteroid," McKay observed. "The public wants us to have mastered the problem of dealing with asteroids. So being able to have astronauts go out there and sort of poke one with a stick would be scientifically valuable as well as demonstrate human capabilities."
Although we are still decades away from asteroid mining, visiting these worlds would give humanity much needed practice before heading off towards the asteroid belt.
As for the "preventing killer asteroid" dilemma often seen on Hollywood screens, most solutions (such as nuclear retaliation) would not prevent a space rock from hitting Earth, although a space tractor may be more effective.
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