In his budget for next year, President Obama will include $100 Million towards NASA "lasso-ing" a nearby asteroid, then exploring it. The money set aside will only cover the costs of planning the mission and identifying a correct asteroid (not too big, not too small), but the project has long been a goal for NASA administrators looking to learn more about how to mine (!) asteroids, as well as deflect them in case of a possible collision with Earth.
The current plan includes sending a robotic spaceship to take the asteroid towards Earth in 2019 (it's a wee-little rock, so don't worry if we lose control) and then, in 2021, a group of astronauts will land on the asteroid and begin studying it.
Former astronaut and now Senator Bill Nelson, who revealed the plan yesterday at a news conference, stressed the importance of the mission:
"The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars."
The eventual cost of the mission is expected to cost billions. Donald Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object program, told reporters that the asteroid would captured in a the style of "a baggie with a drawstring. You bag it. You attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it."
While researching deflection methods won't be the mission's main priority, NASA has been a bit leery of floating rocks ever since this reminded us that sometimes they come crashing down.