WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Remember the old comedy show, "Third Rock from the Sun?" Now there is serious talk of using a robot spaceship to lasso a real rock--make that a small asteroid--and put it near the moon so astronauts can get an up close look.
No, it is not science fiction. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) says the federal budget to be unveiled next week by the White House will add $100 million in seed money to speed up the mission timeline by four years.
The idea is to find and capture a 500 ton asteroid, in 2019 with a robot ship playing space cowboy. Then the space rock would be parked near our lunar neighbor so astronauts could go exploring in 2021.
It would be a first. Supporters will argue the project could extend our ability to work in space on a regular basis, explore the minerals that asteroids might provide for use on Earth, and teach us a thing or two about protecting ourselves against asteroids that fly too close to terra firma.
Opponents will call it a pointless exercise that we can ill afford in budget strapped times. I suspect some late night comedians will have their fun with the idea too. Will it ever get off the ground? Who knows. But for space buffs it sure makes for interesting conversation.