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Forget falling stars: NASA plans to catch an asteroid

By Dana Ford, CNN
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NASA aims to tow the asteroid back toward Earth, says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson
  • Astronauts would then travel there to study it
  • President Barack Obama supports the plan, Nelson says

(CNN) -- NASA is planning to catch an asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon.

Seriously.

What sounds like something from science fiction is actually a part of President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year, according to a Florida senator.

The budget is expected to be unveiled this week.

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"In a nutshell, the plan in NASA's hands calls for catching an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft and towing it back toward Earth, where it would then be placed in a stable orbit around the moon," read a statement from the office of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

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Astronauts would then travel to the asteroid where "there could be mining activities, research into ways of deflecting an asteroid from striking Earth and testing to develop technology for a trip to deep space and Mars," it said.

NASA's plan is similar to one suggested last year by experts at the California Institute of Technology, said Nelson, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space. That plan proposed bringing a 500-ton asteroid closer to Earth.

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Obama supports NASA's plan and is including about $100 million in his proposed budget to kick it off, the senator said.

The president has previously said that he wants to send astronauts to an asteroid for the first time by 2025.

NASA's plan would bump that date up by four years to 2021, according to Nelson's office.

The proposal may have gotten an unexpected boost in February when an asteroid exploded over Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people, causing millions of dollars in damage and sparking fresh concerns about the severity of space threats.

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