PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Surrounded by engineers,chief Charles Bolden inspected a engine that could power an audacious mission to lasso an asteroid and tow it closer to Earth for astronauts to explore.
Bolden checked on the progress Thursday a month after the Obama administration unveiled its 2014 budget that proposes $105 million to jump start the mission, which may eventually cost more than $2.6 billion.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and ion propulsion instead of conventional chemical fuel.in Ohio are developing a thruster that relies on
Once relegated to science fiction, ion propulsion — which fires beams of electrically charged atoms to propel a spacecraft — is preferred for deep space cruising because it's more fuel-efficient. Engine testing is expected to ramp up next year.
During his visit to thecampus, nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, Bolden viewed an engineering model of the engine and peered through a porthole of a vacuum chamber housing the prototype.
NASA is under White House orders to fly humans to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. Instead of sending astronauts to thebetween Mars and Jupiter, as originally planned, the space agency came up with a quicker, cheaper idea: Haul the asteroid close to the moon and visit it there.
Bolden said the original concept was impractical given the flat budget and praised the alternative as "ingenious."
"If you can't get to the asteroid, bring the asteroid to you," Bolden said.