NASA embarks on mission to lasso asteroid

The administration announced plans Friday to hold a public forum on the program, detailed in its annual budget request last month. Notice of the June 18 meeting in Washington will be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register.

NASA officials will provide a status update and gather “feedback and ideas from the global community and the public,” according to the notice.

The plan involves lassoing a streaking asteroid with a large baglike mechanism, then dragging it into the moon’s orbit where astronauts could explore it. NASA's animated imagination of the operation can be viewed here.

“This mission to identify, capture, redirect, and sample a small asteroid would mark an unprecedented technological feat that will raise the bar of what humans can do in space,” NASA said in a section of its fiscal 2014 budget request.  “And it would provide invaluable new data on the threats asteroids pose to our home planet and how they could be mitigated.”

The administration is proposing to spend $105 million on the program in the next fiscal year.

Success would be seen as a major step forward in President Obama’s goal of sending astronauts to Mars by the mid-2030s.

The asteroid issue caught Washington’s attention earlier this year, following February’s close encounter with a 150-foot-wide asteroid that came within 17,200 miles of hitting the planet. Another asteroid entered the earth's atmosphere and exploded above Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people.

The events sparked a congressional hearing and a lobbying push from an asteroid mining company, which is tracking the government actions and looking for opportunities to get involved.