NASA is seeking $100 million in federal funds to kickstart its most ambitious project yet: bringing an asteroid back from deep space and placing it in orbit around the moon for research purposes.
According to NBC, NASA will include the project in its budget request for the 2014 fiscal year on Wednesday. The request has the backing of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is from Florida's Space Coast and flew in the shuttle.
"This mission would combine the best of NASA's asteroid identification, technology development, and human exploration efforts to capture and redirect a small asteroid to just beyond the moon to set up a human mission using existing resources and equipment, including the heavy-lift rocket and deep-space capsule that have been under development for several years," a NASA spokesperson told NBC.
The asteroid-roping plan comes from a scenario developed in 2012 by the Keck Institute for Space Studies. Under NASA’s revised version of the scenario, the space agency would launch a robotic probe to an asteroid around 2017. When the probe reaches a suitable 25- to 30-foot wide asteroid, the craft would pull it into the moon’s gravitational field.
The purpose of this mission? It would allow astronauts to explore asteroids with significantly shorter travel times. Instead of taking months to send astronauts to deep space, NASA could simply launch them near the moon in a much quicker timeframe. This will allow more time to study and mine the asteroids. NASA also hopes to use the opportunity to learn more about rogue asteroids and how to deflect them.
"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson told Space.com. "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."
While NASA hopes to obtain the $100 million to begin its asteroid project, the space agency will ultimately need much more money than that to make the plan a reality. According to Space.com, bringing a 500-ton asteroid back from deep space would cost roughly $2.6 billion. But the Keck institute believes that by combining the mission with existing NASA plans, the price tag could be lowered to $1 billion.
But while NASA plans to bring an asteroid back to the moon, don't expect the space agency to embark on another manned mission to the moon anytime soon. According to the Verge, NASA has almost entirely ruled out the idea of more manned moon missions, instead focusing on Mars and asteroids.