“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” Nelson said Friday during a visit to Orlando. “The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars.”

NASA’s plan involves catching a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) with a robotic spacecraft, then towing the space rock to a stable lunar orbit, Nelson said. Astronauts would then be sent to the asteroid in 2021 using NASA’s Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket, both of which are in development…

“Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, (the Mars moons) Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt,” the Keck team wrote in a feasibility study of their plan.