WASHINGTON — It’s been a while since NASA’s been known as a place for space cowboys.
But the nickname could make a comeback if the space agency can pull off a new mission that even supporters admit sounds buck-wild: corralling an asteroid with a spacecraft so future astronauts can go visit it.
Obama administration officials said the operation has the potential to jump-start a human exploration program that has floundered since the 2011 retirement of the space shuttle. The White House will include $105 million to begin work on the project in its 2014 budget.
“This mission will send humans farther than they have ever been before, and (it would be the) first ever redirection of (an) asteroid for exploration and sampling,” noted NASA officials in a mission outline presented to Congress this week and obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
If lawmakers approve, the plan calls on NASA to launch an unmanned spacecraft as soon as 2017 on a mission to “capture” a small asteroid and drag it near the moon, possibly to a point roughly 277,000 miles from Earth where competing gravitational forces would allow it to “sit” there.
Astronauts, riding a new NASA rocket and capsule, then would visit the asteroid as early as 2021.
Read more in Saturday’s Arizona Daily Star and at azstarnet.com