Sometime in the next decade, NASA wants to use a robotic spacecraft to capture an asteroid.  Scientists say they need to know if the operation can be done in case a big piece of space rock heads toward Earth.  The so-called Asteroid Redirect Mission would put the captured asteroid into stable orbit around the moon.

NASA scientist Lindley Johnson says, “Our mission can support planetary defense objectives by doing some demonstration of the techniques and technology that would be used to deflect a hazardous asteroid.”

Johnson it will begin a study of the possibilities next month.  That exercise is a part of a bigger effort to identify near-earth objects which might offer a threat to the planet.

Whatever happens, it won’t be anything like the movies.

“The movies do a wonderful job of planting in people's heads what we're talking about,” Johnson says.  “Unfortunately, what you see in Hollywood is not always reality.”

The mission to capture a space rock and insert it into a stable orbit around the Moon could take place in the 2020s.