WASHINGTON – Asteroid Itokawa, reached by an unmanned Japanese space probe in 2005, might be listed as one of the candidates for a human exploration project being considered for the mid-2020s, NASA has said.
The U.S. space agency said Thursday it is looking at several asteroids with diameters ranging from less than 10 meters to several hundred meters as candidates for a manned probe and will make the final decision around 2018.
Itokawa, which travels near the orbits of Earth and Mars, was the destination of the Hayabusa, an unmanned probe that collected and brought about 1,500 specimens of space dust to Earth in 2010.
NASA last year announced a plan to capture an asteroid with a diameter of 10 meters or less as a sample, using an unmanned vehicle. It later added the option of extracting a boulder about 2 to 4 meters across from a larger asteroid, such as Itokawa.
NASA plans to bring the asteroid or boulder close to the moon starting around 2019 and will try to give an astronaut access to it using the Orion, a next-generation spaceship, around 2025.