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WASHINGTON(Florida Today) -- NASA's proposed fiscal 2014 budget includes $105 million to chase down asteroids.

Thespace agency would use the money to help find meteors that couldthreaten the Earth and to begin the process of locating a small asteroidthat could be brought back to moon's orbit for exploration byastronauts.

President Barack Obama's 2014 spending plan, unveiled Wednesday, seeks a total $17.7 billion for NASA.

Theproposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 now heads to Congressfor review. It seeks about the same amount of money for NASA that thepresident sought for fiscal 2013 and would fund the agency's toppriorities. Those include:

  • Nearly $822 million for the Commercial Crew Program designed to replace the space shuttle with a fleet of private-sector craft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
  • $2.7 billion for space exploration. Most of that would be spent on a Space Launch System consisting of a deep-space rocket longer than a football field and an Orion multipurpose vehicle to carry astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the 2030s.
  • $1.2 billion for planetary science. That includes money for the planned November launch of the MAVEN robotic probe that will analyze the Martian upper atmosphere, as well as funds to proceed with the 2020 launch of a rover that will land on Mars.
  • $658 million to keep the James Webb Space Telescope on track for a 2018 launch. The money would be spent working on the telescope's mirrors and scientific instruments. Construction of the $8 billion telescope, the successor to the Hubble Telescope, has been beset by overruns and delays.
  • $834 million for Space and Flight Support, much of it for renovation of Kennedy Space Center's launch complex.

Thereare two arguments for spending $105 million to chase asteroids. Themoney would help with the agency's deep-space mission targeted for 2025and it should help NASA address concerns about the threat meteors poseto Earth.

About$78 million of the money would be used to start a project to deploy arobotic spacecraft to capture a near-Earth asteroid about seven to 10meters in size and haul it into a stable orbit around the moon, NASAAdministrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. said at a budget briefing.

The remaining $27 million would be used to expand efforts to identifymeteors that could threaten Earth and develop a plan to change theirtrajectory.

More than 10,000 such objectsbig enough to level a large city continually brush past the planetundetected. In two very rare events on a single day in February, a smallasteroid passed within 17,000 miles of Earth and a meteor exploded overRussia, injuring more than 1,000 people on the ground.

"This(asteroid) mission raises the bar for human exploration and discovery,helps us protect our own planet, and brings us to closer to a humanmission to an asteroid," Bolden said.

The plan already has backing from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL., one of NASA's most ardent champions in Congress.

The proposed $821 million for the Commercial Crew Program might be the toughest sell on Capitol Hill.

The White House asked for about $800 million for the program in fiscal 2013, but Congress approved $525 million.

That figure is expected to drop further under automatic sequestration budget cuts that took effect March 1.

Adecision not to fully fund NASA's fiscal 2014 request for theCommercial Crew Program would delay the scheduled 2017 launch of acrewed mission to the International Space Station, forcing NASA to relylonger on the Russians for transport, Bolden said.

Rep.Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, and several other House members haveintroduced a bipartisan bill directing the agency to develop a plan forreturning to the moon and establishing a human presence there.

"Themoon is our nearest celestial body, taking only a matter of days toreach," Posey said. "In order to explore deeper into space - to Mars andbeyond - a moon presence offers us the ability to develop and testtechnologies to cope with the realities of operating on anextraterrestrial surface."

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