NASA plans to lasso asteroid

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NASA plans to lasso asteroid

CREATED Apr 8, 2013

Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -This is a job for a space cowboy.
NASA is looking to lasso an asteroid and bring it home for a closer look.
To help protect us from killer space rocks NASA plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to lasso an asteroid or grab it some other way, and sort of tame it.

Ben Bahti and his horse Primo know a thing or two about catching a fast moving object.

We watched Ben and Primo practice calf roping.

Ben says, "Everybody has to be in the correct position.  Your horse has to know what's he's doing.  The calf has to be running straight.  I don't know how you'd practice that on an asteroid."

Catching tons and tons of high speed space rock is exactly what NASA is planning.

So why do you want to corral an asteroid anyway?  One of the best reasons is you want to learn how to nudge these things off course before they come and flatten your city.  Another good reason is because a lot of asteroids are full of valuable minerals, things you can go into space and harvest and use them for fuel and materials to take you deeper into space."
U of A Planetary Scientist Dante Lauretta is leading a mission to land an unmanned probe called Osiris Rex on an asteroid and bring back a small sample. That's tricky enough.  Grabbing an entire asteroid and parking it near the moon so astronauts can explore it---now that's thinking big.

KGUN 9 reporter Craig Smith asked: "Now when they're talking about parking it near the moon, is there any chance it could get away from them?" 

Lauretta says, "They want to put it at what's called a LaGrange point on the far side of the moon so it's a very stable location, gravitationally and if they get it there it will have no chance of impacting the Earth." 
The unmanned asteroid grabber may not literally lasso the rock.  One concept calls for a giant scoop but scientists are still brainstorming what else might work.

Ben Bahti says it's too bad you can't get a horse in a space suit.

We've had some fun with this plan but it is a serious mission.  One of the challenges is to be able to find an asteroid small enough to capture.  That will mean developing the ability to find and track asteroids much smaller than we can track now.  The extra benefit of that is to find smaller space rocks that could still be a danger.