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NASA has unveiled an ambitious plan to send astronauts to an asteroid, and it involves a lasso.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who was an astronaut himself, told reporters on Friday about the plan, which President Obama has set aside $100 million for, notes The Associated Press. The plan features a robotic spaceship lassoing a 500-ton, 25-foot asteroid in 2019. That would bring it close enough to the earth to allow astronauts to use an Orion capsule to approach the rock in 2021.
"It really is a clever concept,” Nelson told reporters in Orlando, according to The New York Daily News. “Go find your ideal candidate for an asteroid, go get it robotically and bring it back.”
The plan is set to appear in President Obama’s 2014 budget, which will be revealed next week.
Georgia Institute of Technology aerospace engineering professor Robert Braun noted that if the plan happens, it will be the first time humans will have manipulated a large object in space like this. “It's a great combination of our robotic and human capabilities to do the kind of thing that NASA should be doing in this century,” he commented.
Nelson revealed that this plan is just the beginning of NASA’s approach to asteroids in the future. He said that it would put the agency on track to developing technology that could push a dangerously close asteroid away from earth.
“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” the senator said, notes the Daily News. “The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars."
If $100 million seems like a low estimate for the cost of the plan, it is. That's just how much it will cost in planning. The construction of the robot and the capsule for astronauts will be in the billions.