Future Exploration of the Solar System: NASA's Moon to Mars Initiative

Prof. Paul Abell


A major goal for NASA's human spaceflight program is to send astronauts to the Moon and beyond in the coming decades. The first missions would focus on exploration of the Moon with the intent of developing the technologies and capabilities to then proceed on to Mars.  

However, there are many objects that show promise as future destinations beyond the Moon, which do not require the extensive mission capabilities or durations required for Mars exploration. These objects are known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and would undoubtedly provide a great deal of technical and engineering data on spacecraft operations for future human space exploration and serve as stepping stones for NASA’s efforts to reach Mars.  A subset of these objects has been identified within the ongoing investigation of the NASA Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS).

Information obtained from a human investigation of a NEO, together with ground-based observations and prior spacecraft investigations of asteroids and comets (e.g., Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx), will provide a real measure of ground truth to data obtained from terrestrial meteorite collections.  In addition, robotic precursor and human exploration missions to NEOs would allow NASA and its international partners to gain operational experience in performing complex tasks (e.g., sample collection, deployment of payloads, retrieval of payloads, etc.) with crew, robots, and spacecraft under microgravity conditions at or near the surface of a small body.  This would provide an important synergy between the worldwide Science and Exploration communities, which will be crucial for development of future international deep space exploration architectures and has potential benefits for future exploration of destinations beyond the Earth-Moon system (e.g., Mars).

About the talk

Future Exploration of the Solar System: NASA's Moon to Mars Initiative
Prof. Paul Abell
Thursday October 10, 2019 - 10:30 GMT+1  (Aula)
en     en

About the speaker

 Paul Abell is the Chief Scientist for Small Body Exploration in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.   His main areas of interest are physical characterization of near-Earth objects (NEOs) via ground-based and spacecraft observations, examination of NEOs for future robotic and human exploration, mitigation of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets, and identification of potential resources within the NEO population for future in situ utilization.  

He was a science team member on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa near-Earth asteroid sample-return mission and participated in the successful recovery of the spacecraft‘s sample return capsule, which returned to Woomera, Australia in June 2010.  Paul is currently a team member of the Hayabusa2 mission and is aiding the cooperation between Hayabusa2 and NASA’s OSIRIS REx spacecraft teams as they investigate and sample their respective near-Earth asteroids.

Since 2006 Paul has been a member of an internal NASA team that has been examining the possibility of sending astronauts to NEOs for human missions.  He is also an investigation team member on both NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and Near-Earth Object Camera (NEO Cam) proposed planetary defense missions.  Asteroid 8139 (1980 UM1) is named Paulabell in recognition of Paul's contributions to NEO research and exploration studies.


Work Experience:

2010-present National Aeronautics & Space Administration

2016 – present Chief Scientist for Small Body Exploration – Leads NASA’s interests for cooperative work between the OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 sample return missions, supporting human spaceflight initiatives across the Solar System, team member of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission for planetary defense, HERMES payload team member for the International Space Station, advisor to commercial companies for asteroid in situ resource identification, characterization, and utilization.

2010 – 2016 Lead Scientist for Planetary Small Bodies – Helped lead the work involved in refining and characterizing near-Earth asteroids as human spaceflight destinations, team member of the Near-Earth Object Camera (NEO Cam) mission and JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission.


2007-2010 Planetary Science Institute

2008 – 2010 Research Scientist – Continued studies of remote sensing of near-Earth objects, and participated as a team member in the JAXA-led Hayabusa sample return mission. 

2007 – 2008 Associate Research Scientist – Conducted ground-based near-IR spectral studies of near-Earth asteroids and cometary nuclei.


2004-2007 Postdoctoral Studies

2005 – 2007 NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at NASA Johnson Space Center

2004 – 2005 National Research Council Associate at NASA Johnson Space Center



Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

December 2003 Ph.D. in Geology


University of North Dakota

December 1993 M.S. in Space Studies


Colgate University

May 1990 B.A. in Astronomy/Physics

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