Jeff Foust writes in TheSpaceReview.com this week about NASA's asteroid return mission:
“It seems like something out of science fiction.” An opening line like that causes many science writers to cringe: trite, overused, and lazy. Nonetheless, it seems applicable to the announcement in NASA’s fiscal year 2014 budget request earlier this month of a new “asteroid imitative” that includes the concept of moving a small near Earth asteroid into cislunar space. Could a space agency that today doesn’t have the ability to place human beings in orbit really shift the orbit of a celestial body and send a crew to it—ideally by 2021, no less? It seems like something out of science fiction, many people concluded.
Now, NASA had to convince its various stakeholders, in particular Congress, that such a mission is not a flight of fancy but rather a feasible mission that can further the administration’s long-term human spaceflight goals, as well as perhaps support other priorities, like planetary defense. Given that NASA itself has not determined if such a mission is feasible, the agency faces an uphill struggle to show that what they’re proposing is fact, not fiction.
There are so many pieces that have to come together at the right times – such as development of the solar electric propulsion spacecraft, identification of a suitable asteroid, completion of Orion and the SLS, and timely funding by Congress – that the rank-and-file and key stakeholders have to be “all-in” with complete commitment to this initiative for it to have any chance to succeed. I'm concerned that the “afterthought” feeling is not an isolated incident.