May 23, 2013 6:30 PM by Tony Spehar
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - The head of NASA is visiting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where engineers are working on a proposed mission to lasso a small asteroid and drag it closer to Earth for astronauts to explore.
During Thursday's visit, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden viewed a prototype ion engine that JPL engineers are developing with counterparts at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
NASA is under orders to send astronauts to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. The space agency has decided to speed up the timeline by capturing a small rock in 2019, parking it near the moon and sending a team of spacewalking astronauts to explore it in 2021.
The White House's budget released last month proposes $105 million to jumpstart the mission, which may eventually top $2.6 billion.