With the space shuttle now history, NASA's next great mission is so audacious, the agency's best minds are wrestling with how to pull it off: Send astronauts to an asteroid in less than 15 years.Don't get me wrong -- asteroids are a fascinating area of study. They provide clues as to how the solar system formed, they may contain minerals we could use on Earth, one of them will probably try to kill us all in the not too distant future, etc. So yeah, it's very useful to study them. By all means, send probes, take samples, do what you have to do.
But what value is there in putting people on an asteroid? It just sounds like a very expensive, dangerous, and difficult mission with no obvious scientific payoff. Oh, except maybe this:
It is all a stepping stone to the dream of flying astronauts to Mars in the mid 2030s.Sure, because landing on a rock with virtually zero gravity is great practice for landing on a planet with gravity.
Am I missing something?