NASA receives hundreds of responses to asteroid mission planning

An artist's illustration of a large asteroid headed for Earth.

When NASA called on the public on June 18 to help plan an asteroid retrieval mission, the public responded in droves. Non-profits, private companies and international organizations sent in more than 400 proposals, the agency said in a press release.

The mission involves redirecting an asteroid and parking it in orbit near the moon, so that NASA astronauts can later explore it.

"The aerospace industry, innovative small businesses and citizen scientists have many creative ideas and strategies for carrying out our asteroid exploration mission and helping us to protect our home planet from dangerous near-Earth objects," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, speaking Friday at the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif.

The space agency will release full details of the proposals in September, but for now Garver said that about a third of the responses related to the agency's Asteroid Grand Challenge, which seeks to identify ways that asteroids are threatening the human population and what to do about the threats. The remaining proposals revolved around the five elements of the asteroid retrieval mission.

The overall asteroid mission has stirred debate among members of Congress. While some say it is a distraction from the goal of reaching Mars by the 2030s, others believe landing on an asteroid will be useful training for the Mars mission planning.

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.