NASA wants to identify an asteroid in deep space, figure out a way to capture the spinning and hard-to-grab orb, nudge it into our planetary region, and then set it into orbit around the moon, the agency announced Wednesday.
The capture would be performed robotically, and the relocated asteroid would become a destination for astronauts to explore—and, possibly, for space entrepreneurs to mine.
The idea may sound more like science fiction than national policy, but it actually fits in with key goals of the Obama administration and the space community.
Those goals include learning how to identify asteroids heading toward us and to change their course, finding destinations where astronauts can go as they try to learn how to make the longer trip to Mars, and providing opportunities for space investors.
"This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement before the plan was announced on Wednesday.
"This asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology, and human exploration efforts to achieve the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025," his statement continued.
Planning for the effort has just begun, and Bolden said teams will meet over the summer to work out how to select the right asteroid, how to get a spacecraft to it, and how to tow it many millions of miles to our moon.
As envisioned in a new NASA video (below), the asteroid would be caught and then surrounded by a large, flexible covering that will be towed by a spacecraft with two large solar arrays.