NASA's newly announced plan to capture an asteroid and re-position it around the moon for an astronaut visit sounds cool, but it's a side-show on the road to Mars, scientists and long-time space mission managers told Congress.
"To me, the connection between the asteroid retrieval mission, which involves proximity operations with a rock that would fit comfortably in this hearing room, I see no obvious connection between that and any of the technologies and capabilities required for Martian exploration," Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres told the House Subcommittee on Space on Tuesday.
VIDEO: The Moon is so Damn Awesome
A better stepping-stone for human expeditions to Mars is the moon, argued Paul Spudis, senior scientist with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
"It has partial gravity like Mars. It has a dust environment that you have to learn to deal with. You can learn how to explore and how to get the most out of the missions," Spudis said.
NASA planned to follow the space shuttle and International Space Station programs with a return to the moon, but President Obama canceled the project, known as Constellation, in 2010 due to funding shortfalls.