From a global population of more than 7.6 billion, less than 600 human beings have ever traveled into space. By all accounts, it is a profound experience. Each space traveller has found their perspective changed by their journey. And this change has extended to how they see both the wider universe and our own home planet.
Certainly there is nothing that can compare to the thrill of see our planet from orbit. Astronauts are regularly reported to spend much of their free time ‘Earth gazing’. And from that unique vantage point, one thing is obvious – the Earth is pockmarked by craters. Around 128 craters are visible on the surface of our world, each on them produced by something falling into our word from space. Mostly likely, those falling objects were asteroids.
As a result, a number of astronauts have gone on to develop a specific interest in these space rocks. They wonder what it would be like to travel to one. They study what the asteroids can offer in terms of resources that would make the wider exploration of the Solar System easier. And they devote their efforts to helping keep track of the asteroids so that we can know Earth is safe from future impacts.
For this special Asteroid Day panel we gathered together NASA, ESA and private astronauts and then we went to social media, and crowd sourced questions to ask these space travellers. These questions included:
Are the numbers of asteroid in the asteroid belt increasing? Was it an asteroid or a meteorite that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? What comes after NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission? What’s the most important skills for an astronaut who will work with asteroids to have?When might astronauts visit the moons of Mars? How difficult is it to track asteroids and predict their orbits? What kind of gravity does an asteroid have? What value is there in sending non-scientists into space? What might we learn about Earth’s place in the cosmos from visiting an asteroid?