After a seven and a half year journey, and with a price tag just shy of half a billion Dollars, NASA's Dawn spacecraft finally has the asteroid Ceres in its sights. Ceres is a massive asteroid which sits among a clutch of much smaller boulders, pebbles and dust out beyond the orbit of Mars. This field of debris is the rocky rubble left over from the time when the inner planets, including the Earth, were first forming, about 4 and a half billion years ago. This means asteroids like Ceres can help to uncover the origins of Earth and the minerals and materials, including the water, that we have here. Professor Andrew Coates is the head of Planetary Science at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and he spoke to Chris Smith about the mission...
I think it is incredible that we have the capability to to this, and this is with technology that is nearly 8 years old. I think that technology has advanced so quickly and in such amazing ways that many people don't actually think about what the accomplishment is. (I know that kids, even as old as 20, just think this is something normal).
Half a billion dollars really isn't that much as far as these sorts of projects go, and it's not like that money vanished as soon as it was spent. Most of that 0.5 billion was paid to engineers, scientists and other workers on Earth. Some of the value actually was sent off of Earth (actual value of fuel and the craft itself probably won't be recovered), but this is a small fraction of that half billion number and (hopefully) worth it for what we learn.
I agree. IMO, eventually we will be mining the belt and Ceres will...of necessity...become the depot for centralising that work. The only real impediment would be long term exposure to that micro gravity. All in all...visiting Ceres is a marvel. Teakhat, Sat, 7th Mar 2015