Wild wild west in outer space: NASA to lasso an asteroid, park it near the moon

NasteroidConsider this one small step for technological cowboying, and one giant leap for WTF decision making. According to reports, NASA is working on a plan to “lasso” an asteroid in order to bring it to lunar orbit, allowing for further exploration and experimentation.

Bill Nelson, Democratic Senator for Florida and chairman of the Senate science and space subcommittee, revealed the plan at a press conference in Orlando last week, with plans to announce President Barack Obama and the administration’s endorsement to put $100 million into this so-called “accelerated asteroid mission” later this week. Nelson described the NASA plan as “a clever concept.” Although $100 million sounds like a lot of money, the entire project reportedly has no price tag at the moment, which generally translates into “very, very expensive” rather than just clever.

The concept seems surprisingly simple: To begin, NASA plans to send a robotic spaceship into the atmosphere six years from now to capture an asteroid specifically chosen by a team at NASA’s Near Earth Object program. Donald Yeomans, who heads the program – which, in part, monitors asteroids within a certain distance of our planet – likened the process of capturing the asteroid to popping it in a bag with a drawstring. “You bag it,” he said. “You attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it.”

Once successfully “bagged,” the asteroid will be escorted back to an area near the moon, where it’ll be held in place for a couple of years before a manned spaceflight. The four astronauts currently on board the Orion space capsule will head out to give it a first-hand inspection, and begin a number of tests to find out more about just what an asteroid is made of, and how it behaves in space.

The aim of the project, Nelson says, is to help NASA develop ways in which we could “nudge away” an asteroid should it come too close to Earth at any point in the future. The project can also aid both NASA and its astronauts in preparing for potential Mars missions in the next couple of decades. Nelson characterized the 2019 portion of the mission as “go find your ideal candidate for an asteroid. Go get it robotically and bring it back.”

According to NASA’s Yeomans, the asteroid in question is expected to be around 25 feet in size and 500 tons in weight; an ideal size because it’ll be big enough to experiment on, but small enough that – should the worst happen, and the asteroid slips out of lunar orbit and starts hurtling towards us – it should burn up entering Earth’s atmosphere instead of doing too much damage. Or, at least that’s what they’re saying in theory.

Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Resupply mission carries 7,600 pounds of scientific equipment to ISS

The Cygnus spacecraft has rendezvoused with the International Space Station as part of a months-long resupply mission. The craft will remain docked until July 23, while the crew take in the 7,600 pounds of research equipment it carried.
Emerging Tech

Planet-hunting satellite discovers its first Earth-sized planet

NASA's planet hunting satellite, TESS, has made a new discovery. Last month the satellite discovered its first exoplanet. And now it has achieved another milestone, locating its first Earth-sized planet and a larger sibling planet.
Emerging Tech

NASA chooses a special spot for its next crewed moon landing

Following the U.S. government's announcement last month of a desire to see American astronauts set foot on the moon again in the next five years, NASA has revealed a location on the lunar surface where it would most like to land.
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.
Emerging Tech

U.S., U.K. embrace autonomous robot spy subs that can stay at sea for months

Unmanned, autonomous robot spy submarines that are able to stay at sea for months at a time may be coming to both the United States and its ally across the pond, the U.K. Here's what we know so far.
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers surprised to find deep lakes of methane on Titan

In the two years since the Cassini probe burned up in Saturn's rings, data from its recordings is still being analyzed. The latest research has shown that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hosts deep liquid lakes of methane on its surface.
Emerging Tech

Happy birthday, Hubble! Telescope celebrates with image of Southern Crab Nebula

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit, where it has remained for nearly three decades collecting information about deep space. To celebrate its birthday, Hubble imaged the beautiful Southern Crab Nebula.
Emerging Tech

Star gives off superflare equal to 80 billion megatonnes of TNT. That’s a lot

A tiny star the size of Jupiter has been observed giving off a massive superflare 10 times more powerful than any flare from our Sun. The findings are raising questions about how much energy small stars can hold.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.