SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) - You might remember the meteor that exploded in the air over Russia back in February. It was about 17 meters in diameter.
Now, New Mexico scientists are looking for an asteroid about half that size for a new mission NASA is proposing in its 2014 budget.
The idea is to catch an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft, bring it closer to Earth, maybe even putting it in orbit around the moon, where astronauts can explore it by 2021.
But first, they have to find it.
That is where Dr. Eileen Ryan and her team at New Mexico Tech come in.
"We would have to find a slow spinning object and we would like to find one with a high probability of some precious minerals or perhaps water, so we would be focusing on a carbon-rich asteroid," Dr. Ryan said.
Astronauts will try to mine the resources and could develop technologies which would be useful for a human mission to Mars.
Ryan said it would also open the doors to possibly preventing potentially catastrophic collisions with Earth.
"We would get actual practice in altering something's orbit and that would be so essential for planetary defense because if there was an object headed towards the Earth and we did want to deflect it, that would be our first technological milestone we would want to achieve," Ryan said.
Congressional approval of NASA's proposed budget would provide more funding for increased efforts to find several potential targets.
Then, Ryan said, engineers have described the capture.
"They would kind of get in the right position and tow it towards the spacecraft and then, this is how they have described it to me… then, picture a big giant garbage bag being thrown over the object," Ryan said. "Then we would capture it and drag it back."
This mission will get NASA one step closer to its goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025.
That is something New Mexico Tech astronomers have already been working on, again, trying to find the perfect asteroid for the task.
Ryan said she expects to know by the end of the year if she will get additional funding for the Asteroid Retrieval Mission.
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