NASA to 'lasso' an asteroid

The White House confirms the space agency is working up plans to snag a space rock and bring it closer to Earth for study.

NASA is planning a near-Earth rock-hounding expedition.
NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office

There could be a sequel in the works to that absurd scene from 1998's "Armageddon" in which Ben Affleck and friends land on a threatening near-Earth asteroid. But this time around it's a real-world NASA mission to kidnap, rather than obliterate, a space rock.

Part of the idea is to conduct research to help prevent just such an "Armageddon" scenario from ever cropping up in real life, according to a mission overview obtained by CBS News last week. The space agency is hoping to lasso an asteroid, space cowboy style, and tow it close enough to Earth so that it can be visited by astronauts. The astronauts then will conduct research that could one day assist in a mission to Mars or save Earth from a catastrophic collision, should Mr. Affleck be unavailable.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, spoke about the project on Friday, which was later confirmed over the weekend by White House officials.

"Asteroids are a very, very interesting area," Rusty Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut, told CBS News. Schweickart helped found the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building and launching a privately funded space telescope to search for threatening asteroids. "They're a hell of a resource, and I think the potential for long-term resource development for use in space is going to be a very big thing. And this is sort of step one. It's a baby step in a way, but it should be very interesting."

According to earlier reports, the Obama administration hopes to put astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and possibly follow up such missions with manned Mars flights in the following decade.

What this all means for the recent private sector announcements to tap into the resource potential of asteroids is unclear, but it's sure to be a boon for the business of Hollywood sequels.