NASA makes progress on asteroid lasso mission

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, right, talks with electric propulsion engineer John Brophy during a visit to Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, May 23, 2013. They are standing next to an ion engine, which NASA engineers plan to use for an asteroid capture mission later this decade. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, right, talks with electric propulsion engineer John Brophy during a visit to Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, May 23, 2013. They are standing next to an ion engine, which NASA engineers plan to use for an asteroid capture mission later this decade. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – The head of NASA is visiting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where engineers are working on a proposed mission to lasso a small asteroid and drag it closer to Earth for astronauts to explore.

During Thursday’s visit, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden viewed a prototype ion engine that JPL engineers are developing with counterparts at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

NASA is under orders to send astronauts to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. The space agency has decided to speed up the timeline by capturing a small rock in 2019, parking it near the moon and sending a team of spacewalking astronauts to explore it in 2021.

The White House’s budget released last month proposes $105 million to jumpstart the mission, which may eventually top $2.6 billion.

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