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Fri, 6th Mar 2015

What can we learn from NASA's Dawn probe?

Dawn Flight Configuration (c) NASA

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...

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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).

Although I would not want to give it (space exploration), I wonder what the end goal is. Half a billion dollars to send a ship to a (probable) lifeless rock. Although I've not read about the objectives, I assume that any discovery will not help human kind at anytime in the near (100 years?) future. I suppose there are supplemental discoveries and or technology that would be of benefit, but is half a billion dollars really best spent on this activity?

I can't wait to see the pictures!  Merccooper, Sat, 7th Mar 2015

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.

We spend (much) more money on political attack ads alone every election cycle in the US (at least in recent history)--and those really ARE worthless (at best!) By the numbers published by our own government (http://www.whitehouse.gov/2013-taxreceipt), it looks like defense spending (including veterans benefits) is almost 50 times the entire NASA budget (and I think some of NASA's funding goes to defense-type research anyway...)

It sounds to me that we hope to learn about planet formation processes from NASA's Dawn probe. Perhaps get more detailed information on the composition of these asteroids (which could be invaluable if we ever do decide to start mining there, but that's for another discussion) There are also all of those things that we didn't even think of before getting the anomalous data, that eventually revolutionizes scientific thought. Who knows where we will find the next big anomaly... could be on Ceres... chiralSPO, Sat, 7th Mar 2015

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

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