NASA has marked the 2000SG344 asteroid as a potential landing site for astronauts. This trip would take three to six months, with astronauts spending two weeks on the asteroid's surface.
It was once considered the most dangerous object in the universe, heading for Earth with the explosive power of 84 Hiroshimas. Now an asteroid called 2000SG344, a lump of rock barely the size of a large yacht, is in the spotlight again, this time as a contender for the next giant leap for mankind.
Nasa engineers have identified the 1.1m tonne asteroid, which in 2000 was given a significant chance of slamming into Earth, as a potential landing site for astronauts, ahead of the Bush administration's plans to venture deeper into the solar system with a crewed voyage to Mars.
The mission - the first to what officials call a Near Earth Object (NEO) - is being floated within the US space agency as a crucial stepping stone to future space exploration.
A report seen by the Guardian notes that by sending astronauts on a three-month journey to the hurtling asteroid, scientists believe they would learn more about the psychological effects of long-term missions and the risks of working in deep space, and it would allow astronauts to test kits to convert subsurface ice into drinking water, breathable oxygen and even hydrogen to top up rocket fuel. All of which would be invaluable before embarking on a two-year expedition to Mars.