A near-Earth asteroid or comet could be an early target for human explorers under some blue-sky thinking under way at NASA's exploration shops on using a hybrid of planned U.S. launch vehicles for the mission.
The agency's Constellation Program at Johnson Space Center launched a study last fall on flying the Orion crew exploration vehicle to a rendezvous with a near-Earth object (NEO) for study and possibly even sample return. A separate effort at Marshall Space Flight Center is studying whether it would be possible to cobble together pieces of the planned Ares I and Ares V launchers for an early lunar-return re-entry test with an unpiloted Orion. Also on the table, strictly as a possibility at this point, is using that so-called Ares IV to send humans to a NEO.
Scott Horowitz, associate administrator for exploration systems, is quick to point out that there is "no funding or plans for a NEO flight program. We are studying many different potential missions. Systems we are building will be enabling for many years to come."
The idea I think is tres kewl. If the paper Orion is going to be capable of being used for more than just visiting the moon, by all means, let's use it that way. In fact, let's not just go to the moon. or to Mars. Let's explore this place we've inherited.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Democratic Congress is set to gut NASA.