News / Science & Technology

NASA Explores Technology to Face Asteroid Danger

Robotics and advanced SEP technologies like this artist's concept of an SEP-based spacecraft could one day find, rendezvous with, capture and relocate an asteroid to a stable point in the lunar vicinity.
Robotics and advanced SEP technologies like this artist's concept of an SEP-based spacecraft could one day find, rendezvous with, capture and relocate an asteroid to a stable point in the lunar vicinity.
Suzanne Presto
Asteroids - those millions of chunks of space rock, large and small, that drift and spin across our solar system - hold promise for space explorers even as they pose a threat to us on Earth.

When NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discussed the U.S. space agency's proposed 2014 budget with lawmakers in late April, he highlighted a new mission - a plan to capture an asteroid in deep space and bring it to the vicinity of the moon, where astronauts could later explore it.

"We are developing a process or technology that will come forward in the asteroid retrieval mission that will demonstrate that humans can, in fact, alter the path of an asteroid that's headed toward Earth," he said.

A key part of the planned mission, Bolden underscored, is to show that an asteroid's path can be diverted.

Watch Asteroid Initiative Animation (Courtesy: NASA)
 
Asteroid Threats
 
Earlier this year, a small meteor unexpectedly exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and produced a shockwave that shattered thousands of windows and injured more than 1,000 people. The same day, a well-tracked, 45-meter-wide asteroid called 2012 DA14 whizzed safely past Earth, closer than our geosynchronous satellites. It was a record close approach for something that size.

Experts say asteroids larger than 100 meters across strike the Earth's surface, on average, about once every 10,000 years, and there are no records of an asteroid killing anyone in modern history.

John Holdren, the U.S. president's assistant for science and technology, discussed asteroid threats at a hearing on Capitol Hill in March. He told lawmakers that given the rarity of large asteroid impacts, the potential loss of human life from such an event works out to fewer than 100 people per year, which he compared to 5 million deaths each year from tobacco.

"It doesn't look like a very big threat," Holdren said. "But, of course, that is not really a meaningful way to present a risk of this character, where you're talking about a low probability of a very big disaster, and in those sorts of situations, we tend to invest in insurance to reduce the likelihood of a disaster we would regard as intolerable."

Insurance, of course, was not an option for dinosaurs, which are believed to have been killed off 65 million years ago after a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid crashed into the Earth.

Holdren says an asteroid even a fraction of that size could undo life as we know it. "A one-kilometer asteroid would be carrying energy in the range of tens of millions of megatons.  That is as much or more energy as was in the combined arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War," he said. "An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization." 
 
Tracking Asteroids
 
NASA estimates it has catalogued 95 percent of near-Earth asteroids that are wider than one kilometer. It says it has found nothing this size that poses a threat to our planet in the foreseeable future.

The space agency is now working to detect and track much smaller near-Earth objects, ones that are 140 meters in diameter or larger. The goal is to identify 90 percent of those by 2020.

That's where Lindley Johnson comes in. He is the program executive for the Near-Earth Objects Program at NASA headquarters in Washington. His office coordinates NASA-sponsored efforts to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids, as well as comets.

"The first and most important thing, of course, is having the capability to find them early," Johnson explained. "You can't do anything about them unless you know that there is one out there that is a threat. So, that's our primary emphasis - finding them. If we do that job well, then the incidence of us actually being impacted are pretty rare." 
 
International Cooperation
 
Johnson was among hundreds of scientists who attended a United Nations conference on outer space in Vienna earlier this year. His working group recommended creating an international asteroid-warning network and a forum that brings various space agencies together to discuss collaborative approaches to counter dangerous asteroids.

Johnson said they also recommended bolstering disaster response, so national and international agencies could warn people about a potential strike, just as they do about hurricanes or tsunamis. Part of the reason people were injured in Chelyabinsk, he said, is that they did not know what to expect.  

"They didn't realize that with a meteor coming in like that, that there would be such a shockwave that windows would be broken out, so they saw the bright flash and ran to the window and were looking at the contrail when the shockwave hit," he said.

As of late April, nearly 10,000 near-Earth objects had been discovered, with about 1,400 of them classified as potentially hazardous.

Funding for NASA's Near-Earth Objects Program is about $20 million per year, reflecting a five-fold increase during President Barack Obama's administration. 

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Inocencio S. Santillan C. from: Huaraz Peru
May 03, 2013 8:18 PM
It is a fantastic program for to be fishing a asteroid, show us the adavnced technology in the planet, for my so fantastic and nice from American technology

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid