Although our species has barely mastered the concept of landing humans upon terrestrial worlds, we have yet to demonstrate the ability to land on rocky ones.
Despite the fact that humans could always send robots to the surface of these space rocks, our governments may be more comfortable sending humans to perform this dangerous job.
But before people can dream about mining asteroids, we are going to need to figure out how to land on them first--a problem that NASA and DigitalSpace may have already solved.
(Video: A unique approach for sending humans to safely land on asteroids. Credits: DigitalSpace)
(USA Today) For starters, gravity is almost non-existent on an asteroid, which can be as small as only a few hundred feet across or as big as tens of miles in diameter. And because asteroids have rocky, sometimes crumbly surfaces, DigitalSpace's proposed spacecraft includes a system that would anchor it like a boat in a harbor. The design includes a ring of airbags with sensors to detect the stability of the ground. Once a landing is deemed secure, barbed tethers would deploy to latch the craft onto the surface of the NEO. Like car airbags, the ship's airbags would compress against an asteroid's surface.
"On an asteroid, it's a different environment that requires a whole new way to land a spacecraft," said Bruce Damer, president and CEO of DigitalSpace. "It's like insects being blown around by the wind; they have all this technology to hold onto your arm."
If humanity can master the art of landing upon these floating space rocks, then we will be able to not only mine these asteroids for precious metals, but perhaps turn lunar asteroids into space stations.
Although space tourism, helium-3 and solar powered satellites have the potential of jump starting our efforts off world, asteroid mining could finance our species efforts towards conquering our solar system (and hopefully beyond).
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