NASA Forms Task Force to Defend the Planet from Asteroids
Alexander Neil / 3 years ago
NASA is preparing to be able to prevent one of the few existential threats to our planet and humanity: giant asteroids. To this end, they have formerly re-designated the ongoing program that currently works to track and detect hazardous near-Earth objects as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). Their responsibilities will be to oversee all NASA-funded projects to document asteroids and comets that pass close to Earth’s orbit and play a key role in coordinating any inter-agency or international efforts to respond to threats.
The long-term objectives of the PDCO are to attempt to discover and detail as many near-Earth objects (NEOs) as possible, as well as develop countermeasures to a potential asteroid impact. Currently, they are pursuing two main lines of investigation into impact prevention; the first is NASA’s Asteroid Redirection Mission, which redirects asteroids using the gravity created by a high mass object to a lunar orbit; the second is the NASA-ESA joint Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) which will assess the effects of high-speed impacts on asteroids.
Should an unavoidable impact occur, the PDCO would be able to provide detailed information about the impact long in advance to emergency agencies. This information could include impact timings, locations, and potential global effects, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prepare and respond to the ensuing disaster. So far NASA has been able to discover and classify over 90 percent of NEOs larger than 3,000 feet (1 kilometer) and over 13500 discovered to date. Now NASA is focused on meeting the goal of documenting 90% of NEOs 450ft (140m) or larger by 2020, which the formation of the PDCO should help them meet.
While there are no reported threats to our planet as of yet, the amount of NEOs is sizable and the formation of task forces such as the PDCO are certainly better safe than sorry. Increases to NASA’s budget going into 2016, research into NEOs and disaster prevention should go from strength to strength and with plans for a manned mission to an asteroid in the works, humanity should be in a much better place to defend from asteroid disasters potentially in our future.