Though NASA’s plans for manned spaceflight going forward are slim, it is exploring its options for using Curiosity-style unmanned robots in future missions. One such potential undertaking, recently confirmed by researchers at the Keck Institute for Space Studies, would involve sending a flying robot into space to wrangle a small asteroid, put it inside a giant bag, and send it into the moon’s orbit to be studied by astronauts or other robots. Bringing the rock closer to the moon would hopefully allow scientists to easily study it without subjecting people or equipment to dangerous deep space radiation. The project could take up to 10 years in total.

NASA would hope to use the research to determine whether asteroid materials could be used in construction or for fuel, allowing spacecraft to undertake longer, more complex missions.

(Photo: Jose Paulo Carvalho Pereira/Fotopedia)