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NASA sets sights on capturing 'The Perfect Asteroid'

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Atlanta, GA (CNN) – Forty-five years ago the US won the ultimate race – it beat the Russians to the moon. And while more than half a billion people watched Neil Armstrong take that small step, it seems like we’re kind of over the moon.

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The last time America sent a man to the pie in the sky was 1972. NASA’s Constellation Program would have returned astronauts back to the moon. However, President Obama cancelled the program in 2010. It seems the sentiment was “Been there, done that.”

Instead, NASA is setting its sights on a new target: The Perfect Asteroid. They want to catch one, pull it into the orbit of the moon, and send astronauts there to study it. It’s called “The Asteroid Redirect Mission.”

The first phase of the mission involves a robotic spacecraft rendezvousing with a small asteroid and pulling it into the orbit of the moon. To do this, NASA has come up with two options: Option A would engulf an asteroid with a tent-like contraption; Option B would break off a boulder from a much larger asteroid.

After the asteroid is in the orbit of the moon, astronauts would visit it. They’d use the same system that may someday transport humans to Mars. The development budget for “The Asteroid Redirect Mission” is approximately $1.2 billion.

Now, why does the US want to spend all this money to capture an asteroid? Well, NASA says there are several reasons. One is planetary defense. Remember that asteroid that buzzed over Russia? That one only sideswiped us, and it injured more than 1,000 people. Or how about what happened to the dinosaurs? The thinking goes that if we are able to change the orbit of an asteroid and study its composition, we can protect ourselves against another one crashing into Earth.

We could also potentially mine asteroids and use the missions as a testing ground for the technologies that may one day bring humans to Mars.

So, it may have been a giant leap for mankind, but are we over the moon? All signs kind of point to yes 

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