WASHINGTON -- NASA is planning for a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and park it near the moon for astronauts to explore, a U.S. senator disclosed Friday.
The robotic ship would capture the 450-metric-ton, 7.6-metre asteroid in 2019. Then, using an Orion space capsule, now being developed, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document.
Sen. Bill Nelson said the plan would speed up by four years the mission to land astronauts on an asteroid by bringing the space rock closer to Earth.
Nelson said Friday U.S. President Barack Obama is putting $100 million in planning money for the accelerated asteroid mission in the 2014 budget that comes out next week. The money would be used to find the right small asteroid.
"It really is a clever concept," Nelson said in a news conference. "Go find your ideal candidate for an asteroid. Go get it robotically and bring it back."
While there are thousands of asteroids that size, finding the right one that comes by Earth at the right time to be captured will not be easy, said Donald Yeomans, who heads NASA's Near Earth Object program. He said once a suitable rock is found, it would be captured with the space equivalent of "a baggie with a drawstring. You bag it. You attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it."
-- The Associated Press