Here are the key points from the document:
- Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) offer unique opportunities for ambitious human space voyages that can provide a stepping stone to Mars. Missions to NEAs would provide a new perspective of Earth and test capabilities needed for Mars missions with less risk.
- NASA performed the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Human Space Flight (HSF) Accessible Targets Study (NHATS) in 2010, identifying over 4700 NEAs accessible for future human missions as of 2023.
- An example crewed mission concept to the NEA 2001 FR85 is presented, using a Starship architecture. It would have 3 crew for a 152-day total mission, with 16 days at the asteroid. The mission would demonstrate capabilities like long-duration deep space travel, teleoperated asteroid reconnaissance, and EVAs, helping prepare for future Mars missions.
- Total round-trip delta-V would be around 7 km/s, similar to a round trip to the lunar surface. This makes it a useful stepping stone to more ambitious destinations.
- Future asteroid surveys like NEO Surveyor will find larger and more accessible NEAs, further enabling these types of missions in the 2030s and beyond. Such “stepping stone” missions can expand human space exploration while advancing science, planetary defense, and in-space resource utilization.