Jonathan Goff’s first point in reasons why NASA ARM missions may be a good thing:
Adding a new, even more accessible “moon” to the Earth-moon system.
A lot of people fixate on the fact that we’re going to spend all of this money for a couple of astronauts to go out to a rock in lunar orbit, climb over it for a few days, and bring some samples back. What they conveniently ignore is that more than 99.5 percent of the material brought back to the Earth-moon system will still be there, orbiting the moon for the next several hundred years, in a fashion that is easily revisitable for a long time.
See more at Goff’s original article.
That is something that most naysayers like to start with, the initial cost-vs-benefit. Certainly, if all we did was go to an asteroid and take a stroll, never to return, that would be a low value for the funds spent. I think that’s a strawman argument, or could be made into one by how we proceed after capturing the space rock and hauling it to lunar orbit. Given the abrupt end of Apollo, the truncated capabilities of Shuttle versus what was promised in the 1970’s, and any number of other stillborn efforts over the years, you can’t blame people for being cynical. What’s to say that we have a grand plan for asteroid mining that gets us one ARM flight, or maybe two, and then we distract ourselves and don’t go any further? The thing is, we could do that model of halting exploration again and again, the destination doesn’t really matter. So, what to do about it?
You have to do what Goff suggests – you plan your work and work your plan. Yes, go make that first historic manned asteroid landing and sample return mission, it is an exciting prospect. It would be farther than we’ve been with humans, and the materials returned would be fascinating from a geological and mineral assay perspective. It would also be a pointed and irrefutable demonstration that manned spaceflight was back, and in a big way. But there has to be more. Flags and footprints are showy and energizing for a time, but if that’s all there is to it, then why do it? For most of us in the space industry, we see a vision where space-based resources are the future, and crave progress towards such exploitation. We want to digest the asteroids and metabolize them into the technological muscle, sinew, and bone of our species’ spacefaring body. That needs to be made clear.
Basically, I think it should be openly acknowledged that we have run to Apolloesque flags-and-footprints rationales in the past, and the mission planners, and the spokesmen for the mission, and anyone involved on any level need to be very clear that the plan is not more of the same. No more sprinting to a dead end, then starting over. The architecture of the mission needs to be concretely understood as being directed to exploitation of the exploration, not exploration for exploration’s sake. It has to be understood that ARM is a big step that leads to the even bigger steps we need to make into extraterrestrial space.