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NASA will begin work on asteroid capture mission this year

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NASA asteroid capture animation -- NASA Flickr
NASA asteroid capture animation -- NASA Flickr

A nice side-effect of President Obama releasing his 2014 budget proposal today: a number of federal agencies, including NASA, have released more detailed information on what they plan to do with their allocations for the coming year. In NASA's case, that includes the news it's starting work on a far-fetched plan to capture an asteroid and bring it closer to the Earth so that astronauts can visit it by 2025. NASA also revealed new details, imagery, and video animation on just how it plans to nab the space rock.

"We are developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement, adding "This asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025." NASA's budget includes $105 million that will be divided up among this mission and other "identification and general mitigation strategies for asteroids," that is, ways to spot and track asteroids before they hit Earth.

"We are developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid."

Specifically, NASA wants to find a large asteroid located relatively close to Earth, deploy a robotic craft with an inflatable grabbing mechanism, then bring it into stable and safe orbit around the moon. Once there, NASA plans to send astronauts to it aboard its still under-development Orion crew capsule, to be launched aboard the Space Launch System rocket, which is also still a work-in-progress.

a lot of work to get done in 12 years

NASA's budget proposal says that the agency will begin working on the mission this year and review its feasibility this summer. A program within NASA called "advanced exploration systems," will be in charge of developing the actual device that captures the asteroid, as well as "concepts" for how astronauts could visit its surface. NASA said it will also continue development of a previously announced, lighter and more flexible spacesuit reminiscent of Buzz Lightyear's for use on this mission and eventually, a manned mission to Mars. That's a lot of work to get done in 12 years, but at the least, it marks the first clear manned exploration goal for NASA since 2010, when President Obama canceled a plan for astronauts to revisit the moon.