NASA scientists have a plan to save Earth from a deadly asteroid. The plan is to crash the spacecraft into the asteroid and shift its path away from Earth. This mission will give NASA an opportunity for one more major triumph before they retire their current fleet of space shuttles next year. The plan needs the approval of President Obama before it can proceed
The idea is to bump a 500-foot wide asteroid that’s slated to pass close by Earth in February 2013 with an unmanned probe and have the probe tip the asteroid enough so that, instead of hitting Earth four months later, it will fly past us a little further away than the Moon. The scientists estimate this will shift its path enough to avoid an Earth impact with a margin of error of 1,000 ft (300 m). Then the probe would be redirected to collide with it again in October 2014, shifting its orbit even more and increasing the margin of safety to about 10 times that of the earlier attempt. This will continue, with the asteroid still getting nudged closer to Mars’ orbit, until it flies by at about the same distance as Mars around 2030.
NASA is to present its plan in front of a Nuclear Ablation Test Stand Facility in Sandusky Ohio on June 12th. This test will be used to study whether an impact could successfully alter an asteroid’s course. The plan can only work with asteroids that are big enough and close enough to Earth, which means there aren’t many for NASA to choose from. It is not clear if the agency has identified a specific target yet but those it does choose will be between 460 and 1,300 ft (140 and 400 m) wide – too small to pose a global threat but too big to simply disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere. The asteroid Apophis, which will fly by Earth in 2029 has been mentioned as one possible candidate.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City believes that NASA should be applauded for the plan. We’re not likely to run out of asteroids, but we could use some better tracking, he said. This may be one small step toward that goal.
After the successful comet landing by the European Space Agency’s Philae probe earlier this month, NASA is getting ready for another triumph in space. The agency has two more launches scheduled for this year – the Juno probe that will go into orbit around Jupiter and an X-Ray telescope to study black holes.
It is hoping to extend the working lives of Hubble and other major observatories that are already in space. With this plan, it could also score another first that would solidify its position as a world leader in space exploration.