PETALUMA, California -- "What do you want, America? Do you want an asteroid? If you want it, I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you," promises the US space agency's latest project, channeling Jimmy Stewart's famous moon speech in the the classic romance "It's a Wonderful Life."
OK, that wasn't the exact wording. The reasoning was more: ‘‘If you can’t get to the asteroid, bring the asteroid to you,’’ as NASA chief Charles Bolden told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Bolden was checking progress on the agency's new prototype spacecraft engine hoped to one day lasso an asteroid in order to bring it closer to earth for exploration, said AP.
The Thursday inspection at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory came a month after the Obama administration voiced support for giving the mission $105 million to cover costs AP said could total some $2.6 billion.
It's a very cool project, though. Engineers are working on a thruster that uses ion propulsion, i.e., electrically-charged atoms, rather than regular chemical fuel for power. The big test is slated for next year, said AP.
The White House has instructed NASA to get humans to Mars via asteroid. Not even kidding.
The thing is, the asteroid belt hanging out between Mars and Jupiter is a pretty pricey trip for astronauts. So they came up with what Bolden described to AP as an "ingenious" alternative: Bring the asteroid here, use it to sort out the details, then plan the Mars journey.
The asteroid is set for lassoing in 2019. Upon successful snaring, the agency will "park it in the moon’s neighborhood," said AP, with astronauts hoping to start exploring in 2021.
Check out The Guardian's video report on the project: