COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Leaders of three of the world’s largest space agencies gave NASA’s plan to capture an asteroid and tow it to lunar orbit a generally positive, though cautious, reaction here during a panel discussion at the 29th National Space Symposium.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the European Space Agency, said the 20-member organization is willing to discuss a contribution to the asteroid-capture mission “within the context of an overall exploration program, which is by definition an international program.”

“It’s a very interesting project,” Dordain added.

He did not say exactly what contribution Europe might make to the asteroid-capture mission. In a sense, the European Space Agency is already contributing: It is providing the service module for the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule that, according to the White House’s plan, will take astronauts to the captured asteroid by 2025.

A high-ranking official with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was likewise cautious.

“Honestly speaking … we need more data and information about what NASA is thinking,” said Hideshi Kozawa, executive adviser to the JAXA president for international cooperation and new business. “But for me, it is a very interesting idea,” he said, adding that Japan is open to learning more about the mission.

“We have lots of experience with asteroid missions,” Kozawa said, referring to the Hayabusa asteroid sample-return mission Japan successfully completed in 2010.

“The idea that was presented is a disruptive idea,” said Johann-Dietrich Woerner, head of the German Aerospace Center, DLR. “Everything sounds very nice; it’s pioneering work, for sure. But again, I would ask, ‘Why?’”

Woerner said a crewed mission to a relocated asteroid is sure to be a success in terms of public outreach, but he questioned whether key objectives could be accomplished without astronauts.

“Could we do the same as a totally robotic mission?” Woerner asked the audience here. “That’s always a question.”



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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...