While NASA watchers are still guessing at what direction the incoming Trump administration will assign to America’s space agency, it is increasingly obvious that it won’t include the outgoing Obama administration’s badly beleaguered and generally unloved Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM. That mission would see a small boulder plucked off a Near Earth Asteroid by an automated spacecraft and returned to the vicinity of the Moon for astronauts to go take a look sometime in the mid 2020’s.
Despite an obvious lack of enthusiasm on nearly everyone’s part as well as several technical hurdles which begin with the possible lack of a suitable candidate asteroid in the first place, NASA recently released a press statement which seemed to suggest three relevant oversight bodies have suddenly found value in the proposal. Titled, Report Confirms Scientific Benefits of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, the November 16th release focuses on “potential” contributions of the mission and appears to use the language as loosely as possible.
Now, two key members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Chair Lamar Smith and Space Subcommittee Chair Brian Babin, have sent a blistering letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asking the agency to provide specific evidence that relevant advisory groups have changed their minds regarding the scientific value of the mission.
In contrast to many such challenge letters which fly back and forth in Washington, this one is heavily footnoted and makes devastating use of direct quotes from the NASA Advisory Council, National Research Council and the Small Bodies Assessment Group to refute implications of the offending NASA press release.
The takeaway here is pretty succinct. ARM isn’t merely being dismissed, it is going to be killed with extreme prejudice.