NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission has been put on hold by the Trump Administration, which is prioritizing Mars exploration and withholding funding for the asteroid project.
The space agency is receiving $19.5 billion in its 2018 budget to fund a variety of projects, especially those furthering its long-term Journey to Mars program.
Proposed by the Obama Administration and scheduled for some time during the 2020s, the asteroid redirect mission involved sending a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, breaking off a huge boulder, and redirecting it into orbit around the Moon.
From there, astronauts would use the Orion capsule to study the asteroid and return samples to Earth in the hope they would provide insight into the formation and history of the solar system.
The mission would also have focused on techniques to defend Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids. Additionally, it was supposed to test technologies crucial for a crewed mission to Mars during the 2030s and possibly include a crewed landing on the selected asteroid.
Estimated to cost $1.4 billion, the mission received no funding in the NASA budget President Trump signed into law last month.
“We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we are not pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission with this budget proposal,” a NASA spokesperson told The Huffington Post.
“However, we will continue to work on the needed technologies, such as solar electric propulsion, which will advance future in-space transportation needs,” the spokesperson said.
Robotic missions have already explored several asteroids. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and collected samples, which were returned to Earth five years later.
Last September, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched on a voyage to the asteroid Bennu, where it will arrive next year. After studying Bennu and collecting rock samples, it will return those samples to Earth in 2023.