WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Democrats say a new bill would allow NASA to go ahead with its plan to lasso an asteroid as part of a future mission to send astronauts to Mars.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a former astronaut, contains authorizing language that would grant NASA more flexibility to consider various approaches to the Mars effort and the proposed asteroid mission, The Hill reported Thursday.
NASA's proposed asteroid "snatch" involves capturing an asteroid and dragging it into the moon's orbit where astronauts could explore it.
Nelson's $18.1 billion blueprint, which has the backing of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is in line with spending levels proposed for NASA in an appropriations bill currently being debated in the Senate.
"While our spending plan this year is not as much we'd like NASA to have, it should provide the agency with the resources it needs to continue its mission to deep space and eventually Mars," Nelson said.
NASA has said it considers a successful asteroid mission as a major step toward President Obama's goal of putting men on Mars by the mid-2030s.
"This mission to identify, capture, redirect and sample a small asteroid would mark an unprecedented technological feat that will raise the bar of what humans can do in space," NASA said in its 2014 budget request.