NASA is planning for a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and park it near the moon for astronauts to explore, a top senator revealed Friday.

The robotic ship would capture the 500-ton 25-foot asteroid in 2019. Then using an Orion space capsule, now being developed, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the plan would speed up by four years the existing mission to land astronauts on an asteroid by bringing the space rock closer to Earth.

Nelson, who is chairman of the Senate science and space subcommittee, said on Friday that President Barack Obama is putting $100 million in planning money for the accelerated asteroid mission in the 2014 budget that comes out next week.

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