PHOENIX — Instead of aiming for the moon, NASA’s looking for an asteroid.
If lawmakers approve a proposed mission, an unmanned spacecraft will capture a small asteroid and put in in the moon’s orbit so future astronauts can visit and study it in the future.
“You have to find the asteroid, then you’re going to send a probe to it, you’re going to grab it, you’re going to capture it and then you’re gonna tow it back home,” Mike George from the Arizona Science Center Planetarium explained Monday.
The project is estimated to cost $2.6 billion dollars. If all goes as planned, astronauts could be visiting the asteroid as early as 2021.
George said the research that can come from the mission makes it worthwhile.
“If we can bring back an asteroid and we can study it, we can find out more about asteroids and maybe how we can deflect those if we know about them well in advance,” hr said.
George said the asteroid will stay in place where it is put and will not pose a danger to Earth. The ideal rock is described by NASA as 20 to 30 feet in diameter and weighing 500 tons. It would be captured in a cup-shaped container described as an “inflatable asteroid capture bag.”
The White House will include $105 million to begin work on the project in the 2014 budget.