Former Astronaut John Grunsfeld Plans To Retrieve Mars Rocks With SpaceX's Red Dragon Spacecraft

First Posted: Dec 13, 2016 03:56 AM EST

Former astronaut Dr. John Grunsfeld is suggesting the use SpaceX's Red Dragon spacecraft to retrieve Mars rocks to Earth.

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is creating the first-ever robotic mission to land on a massive asteroid near the Earth. Scientists at the space agency plan to acquire a multi-ton boulder from the asteroid OSIRIS-REX and send it into an orbit near the Moon. After the successful redirection, the mission will then retrieve the space rock within the 2020s to study how to further advance the technology for a Martian mission set for the 2030s.

According to Dr. John Grunsfeld, who was formerly involved in the mission's development from 2012 to 2016, using one of SpaceX's Red Dragon spacecraft will advance NASA's capabilities in exploring the Red Planet, Ars Technica reported.

Instead of using the newly developed solar-powered fuel called solar electric propulsion (SEP) to a spacecraft for an asteroid mission, the former astronaut suggests it would be more effective if they would add a communications satellite, ground-penetrating radar and an imager to a SpaceX spacecraft -- which could be set for a launch to Mars in 2024.

Not only that it could retrieve the much-coveted Martian rocks back to Earth; this strategy would also enable the mission to map the Red Planet's entire bodies of water, display the SEP technology and return to Earth with a new set of highly developed communications system and imaging satellite.

"A lot of people like this idea," Dr. John Grunsfeld said, although "it's not the current baseline," since the ARM project is U.S. President Barack Obama's call for humans to visit an asteroid.

ARM's budget is projected to reach $1.4 billion and could even increase to $2 billion. This cost is not far less than the estimated budget for Dr. John Grunsfeld's strategic plan, which already has the potential to hit two missions in one.

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