People alive today could see astronauts landing on an asteroid for the first time, scientists say.
Researchers have analyzed NASA’s budget since the 1960s to gauge the likelihood of a mission to the asteroid belt within the next century.
They showed that, based on their estimates, the first crewed mission to an asteroid could take place as early as 2073.
The research was conducted by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and published on the Arxiv website last week.
The team predicted a time frame for astronauts to be able to land on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and a space rock in the asteroid belt.
To do this, they looked at how NASA’s budget has evolved since the space agency was founded in 1958.
The researchers noted a number of spikes in the amount of money NASA had to burn corresponding to key events over the years.
These included the early years of the Apollo program in 1966 and the 2018 announcement of Project Artemis to return to the Moon.
Researchers led by Jonathan Jiang concluded that the overall trend is one of steady growth.
They also used historical data to predict how the technology might progress in the coming decades.
NASA needs to take a number of giant leaps before it can safely send astronauts on long-distance missions to other planets.
The researchers concluded that a crewed mission to the asteroid could take place as early as 2073, while astronauts could land on Jupiter in 2103 and Saturn in 2132.
They wrote: “Results so far suggest that the worlds of our solar system throughout human history, just features of light in the night sky, will soon be within reach.
“Our model suggests that human landings on worlds beyond the Moon and Mars may well be observed by many living today.”
So far, NASA’s crewed missions have gone no further than the Apollo program, which last landed astronauts on the Moon 50 years ago.
The space agency has since launched dozens of people to the International Space Station about 250 miles above Earth.
It has a number of missions to distant asteroids planned for the near future, but none with anyone on board.
Last year, NASA launched a spacecraft that will crash into an asteroid in a suicide mission that could one day help save humanity.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission will collide with the space rock Dimorphos 11 million kilometers from Earth this summer.
The ambitious project – which involves teams from NASA and the European Space Agency – is a test of technologies to prevent an impact of Earth by a killer asteroid.
NASA also plans to send a space probe to asteroid Psyche 16 to explore the origins of the solar system.
The Japanese space agency successfully landed a spacecraft on the asteroid Ryugu in 2018 and collected samples which were sent back to Earth.
This story originally appeared on The sun and has been reproduced here with permission.