The moon has had its day and Mars is just, well, too far away.
Nasa plans to put a man on an asteroid by 2025 in a real-life version of the film Armageddon.
Astronauts will embark on a six-month mission to land on a lump of rock around the size of a building and take samples which could tell us about the origins of our solar system.
It would be the first manned mission into ‘deep space’ and at five million miles away, is 20 times further than a voyage to the moon.
Such a venture could form the foundations for a journey to Mars, and recalls the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis blows up an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Nasa’s mission to the asteroid has the full backing of President Barack Obama and would be regarded as an achievement akin to Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.
The practicalities of getting to an asteroid, however, would be worthy of the Hollywood treatment themselves.
A rocket similar to the huge Saturn V would be needed to do the job – the structure was taller than Big Ben and was used on missions to the moon in the 1970s.
The crew would have to endure three months in space to get to an asteroid before spending five days there and coming back.
During that time they would be ‘cooked’ by space radiation which could cause them to become sick and raise their risk of cancer.
Upon arrival, the ship could land on the asteroid or, more likely, astronauts will spacewalk a short distance towards it and hover on a network of safety ropes while collecting samples.
During a recent Nasa forum, astronauts said such a voyage would be fraught with difficulty.
‘Long outbound and inbound trip times are going to be very challenging,’ said Andy Thomas, a veteran space shuttle astronaut.
‘These missions are going to be very, very risky. They are going to be as much risk as the Apollo missions were.’
Nasa has several asteroids in mind for the mission.
The target asteroid would range in size from 20ft across to the size of a small office block.
There are nearly 7,000 known near-Earth asteroids but of those only half a dozen will have orbits that could allow a space shuttle to reach them around 2025.
The earliest Nasa could expect to reach an asteroid would be in 2020, when ground-based telescopes will be able to spot the return of a 197ft-long rock known as 2009 OS5.
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