The nation's space agency aims to snag an asteroid and drag it closer to Earth for sampling, according to the 2014 budget plan unveiled Wednesday by President Barack Obama and White House officials.

The administration's proposal includes $105 million to kick off the "capture and relocation" asteroid research project, part of which will be conducted at Moffett Field's NASA Ames Research Center campus near Mountain View.

Scientists haven't picked an asteroid yet, but they are seeking one that weighs about 500 tons in the 16- to 32-foot diameter range. It would be moved to a stable orbit near the moon, where astronauts would scoop up rock samples for study before 2025.

"We are in the initial phases," NASA Ames director S. Pete Worden said during a Wednesday afternoon teleconference. "We did the analysis, and it looks eminently doable and affordable with the current budget. We are putting together all the pieces."

The idea offers mining opportunities and could yield valuable information to help shield the Earth from being hit, Worden said.

Overall, the White House proposes $733 million in funding for NASA Ames, which employs about 2,500 Bay Area residents. That's a $22 million increase over this year's budget.

"This is good news for Ames, good news for NASA and good news for the country," Worden said.

Other highlights of the 2014 budget proposal for Ames NASA include:


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  • The study of improved air traffic control technologies, from $128 million in 2013 to $131 million in 2014.

  • A "space technology" program, which funds small affordable spacecraft, from $81 million to $103 million.

  • Space exploration programs, such as contributions to the International Space Station, from $52 million to $58 million.

  • The demolition or improvement of buildings at the campus, from $3 million to $37 million.

    NASA's total spending plan calls for $17.7 billion, which would restore the U.S. space agency's funding back to near its 2012 levels. It restores deep cuts from sequestration, giving the agency about $1 billion more than it received this year.

    Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.