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NASA wants to lasso an asteroid. Here's how it could work

April 10, 2013|By Deborah Netburn
  • Concept of asteroid capture in progress.
Concept of asteroid capture in progress. ( NASA/Advanced Concepts…)

How do you capture an asteroid that is zipping through space, move it into a stable orbit around the Earth-moon system stable enough that an astronaut can visit it? NASA has some ideas.

In a new video released Wednesday, the space agency illustrates how its Asteroid Retrieval Initiative might work.

The video was released just as NASA disclosed its 2014 budget proposal, which includes $105 million to study the feasibility of capturing an asteroid 23 to 32 feet in diameter.

The animation is cool to look at -- an unmanned spacecraft flies into space, and releases what looks like a giant layered garbage bag out its rear. That unfolds into a pleated net that encapsulates the asteroid, which is then pulled tight around the space rock.

In the second half of the video, astronauts visit the spacecraft, which is now in orbit, its asteroid bundle trailing behind it. The astronauts attach their spaceship to the spacecraft, and then climb up a pole to mine the asteroid using little hammers to collect samples to bring back to earth.

The music accompaniment to the video is soaring, but the video is decidedly short on details, as is a NASA news release describing the initiative.

For starters, the agency still needs to identify what asteroid they'd like to capture.

“The crucial first step in this endeavor is to enhance our ongoing efforts to identify and characterize near-Earth objects for scientific investigation and to find potentially hazardous asteroids and targets appropriate for capture," said NASA's associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld in a statement.

The agency did say it plans to use the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft as part of the mission down the road. 

"This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat and allows NASA to affordably pursue the administration’s goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025," the agency said in a statement.

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