Rosetta Spacecraft Starts Tracking Asteroid Steins


Heading toward its first target-asteroid, (2867) Steins, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has started using its cameras to visually track the asteroid and eventually determine its orbit with more accuracy.

Rosetta started the optical navigation campaign on 4 August 2008, at a distance of about 24 million km from Steins; the campaign will continue until 4 September, when the spacecraft will be approximately 950 000 km from the asteroid.

“The orbit of Steins, with which Rosetta will rendezvous on 5 September, closing to a distance of 800 km, is only known thanks to ground observations, but not yet with the accuracy we would like for the close fly-by,” said Gerhard Schwehm, Rosetta Mission Manager based at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), near Madrid, Spain.


Hawking: Build Space Colonies in Case We Blow Ourselves Up

Worried that humanity could destroy itself and the Earth with it, famed physicist Stephen Hawking on Monday advocated a massive global spending effort to establish off-world colonies as an insurance policy against a global holocaust, New Scientist reports.

Speaking in Washington, DC, in honor of NASA’s 50th anniversary, Hawking advocated spending about 10 times more than NASA’s current $17 billion budget on the initiative. This expenditure would amount to about 0.25 percent of global GDP.

“Even if we were to increase the international [space exploration] budget 20 times to make a serious effort to go into space, it would only be a small fraction of world GDP,” Hawking told the crowd. “Isn’t our future worth a quarter of a percent?”

Hawking advocated speeding up NASA’s plans to establish a settlement on the moon and send humans off to the Red Planet. “A goal of a base on the Moon by 2020 and of a manned landing on Mars by 2025 would reignite the space program and give it a sense of purpose in the same way that President Kennedy’s Moon target did in the 1960s,” he said.

As much as I admire Hawking, I wonder about the effectiveness of his approach. It would pretty much involve overturning the way politics are practiced.