You can have the moon, China. Leave the asteroid re-routing to us.
NASA’s asteroid hunter is back in action, and it’s looking for a rock where we can land humans next decade. The agency calls its plan — on pace for 2025 — “the first mission to identify, capture, and relocate an asteroid.”
In less than two years of operation, NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) discovered more than 34,000 asteroids as part of its initial mission. Now, after two-plus years of hibernation, the ship is on the job again.
“Over the next weeks and months we will be gearing up our ground-based data processing and expect to get back into the asteroid-hunting business, and acquire our first previously undiscovered space rock, in the next few months,” said the agency’s Amy Mainzer.
NASA released images taken by the craft this week, calling them just as good as the ones taken during its 2010-11 run. The ship uses a 16-inch telescope and infrared cameras to find asteroids that come within 28 million miles of Earth. During its earlier mission (when it was known as WISE), it tracked the entire sky. Now, it’s focused on close-by objects to “protect our home planet.”
Right now, the plan is to use a capture bag — which looks like a giant parachute — to engulf an asteroid and allow astronauts to study it. NASA plans to pull the rock into a stable orbit after nabbing it.
Back on the ground, NASA engineers are testing suits for astronauts to use to explore the captured asteroid. The suits are being tweaked to work with the Orion spacecraft and improve mobility for spacewalks. One prototype is a modified version of NASA’s “pumpkin suit.”
If NEOWISE sends back pictures anything like the ones it caught in its first run, it will be worth keeping an eye on. Here’s a dying star surrounded by tracks of asteroids.
The project isn’t without controversy. Earlier this year, House Republicans on the Science Committee tried to scrap the mission as part of a plan to cut NASA spending and return the focus to moon missions. The Senate, however, passed a NASA spending bill with higher levels and no direction to end the asteroid program. Congress has yet to resolve its final plan for the agency.
What We're Following See More »
Paul Ryan told CNN today he's "not ready" to back Donald Trump at this time. "I'm not there right now," he said. Ryan said Trump needs to unify "all wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement" and then run a campaign that will allow Americans to "have something that they're proud to support and proud to be a part of. And we've got a ways to go from here to there."
In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin gives Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the longread treatment. The scourge of corrupt New York pols, bad actors on Wall Street, and New York gang members, Bharara learned at the foot of Chuck Schumer, the famously limelight-hogging senator whom he served as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff. No surprise then, that after President Obama appointed him, Bharara "brought a media-friendly approach to what has historically been a closed and guarded institution. In professional background, Bharara resembles his predecessors; in style, he’s very different. His personality reflects his dual life in New York’s political and legal firmament. A longtime prosecutor, he sometimes acts like a budding pol; his rhetoric leans more toward the wisecrack than toward the jeremiad. He expresses himself in the orderly paragraphs of a former high-school debater, but with deft comic timing and a gift for shtick."
President Obama has announced another round of commutations of prison sentences. Most of the 58 individuals named are incarcerated for possessions with intent to distribute controlled substances. The prisoners will be released between later this year and 2018.
The Daily Beast has unearthed a piece that Donald Trump wrote for Gear magazine in 2000, which anticipates his 2016 sales pitch quite well. "Perhaps it's time for a dealmaker who can get the leaders of Congress to the table, forge consensus, and strike compromise," he writes. Oddly, he opens by defending his reputation as a womanizer: "The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women (and does so legally and openly) shouldn't become a national leader? Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don't we want people in public office who show signs of life?"