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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid