Closer encounter: Nasa plans landing on 40m-wide asteroid travelling at 28,000mph

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.

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