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Quick update on NASA's amazing plan to lasso an asteroid: they're making progress on the ion propulsion engine they'll need for the mission, one month after president Obama proposed giving NASA $100 mission to get this thing going. 

So far, NASA has a prototype of the ion propulsion engine, and they'd like to test it next year. The engine would be much more efficient than other fuel sources, making it just the thing we need to get to Mars, in theory.

If you're asking yourself why NASA would want to lasso an asteroid in the first place (beyond the obvious headlines and bragging rights) the Associated Press has a good explanation: 

"NASA is under White House orders to fly humans to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. Instead of sending astronauts to the asteroid belt between 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."

But this plan has more to it than just getting us one step closer to Mars, NASA officials say. For one thing, it could save us all from dying a fiery death by asteroid collision. Or, as we've explained before, we could mine it for minerals. 

Despite this, some lawmakers aren't that enthusiastic about the plan. As reported earlier this month, some in the House prefer an alternate plan that would just have us use the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, instead. In any case, the project is slated to grab an asteroid in 2019, and get spacewalkers on its surface in 2021. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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