Despite retiring the shuttle program earlier this year, NASA is still researching new technologies with space exploration in mind. In a feature published on its website yesterday, scientists from the agency have given the public a peek inside their labs, and their experiments into tractor beams. The concept behind a tractor beam should be familiar to anyone who's seen Star Trek, Star Wars or a variety of other sci-fi — the ability to drag or push matter with a beam of energy has been a staple of our vision of the future for many years. NASA's article reveals how this future is potentially closer than we'd imagined.

The new research by a team in Greenbelt, Maryland, is focused on "corralling" particles into a laser beam, much like dust gets dragged through a tube by a vacuum cleaner. The team have been able to use the same technique to transport objects as large as cells, and plan to equip future iterations of the Rover with the technology as a method of collecting samples. "We're at the starting gate on this," NASA scientist Barry Coyle said. "This is a new application that no one has claimed yet." For a full explanation of the research, and a very funky animation suggesting the future for tractor beams, check out the source link.