NASA Officially Has a Plan to Blow Up Asteroids With Nuclear Weapons
You all laughed at Armageddon when it portrayed a last-ditch effort to save Earth from destruction by blowing up an asteroid with a bunch of nukes. "How unrealistic!" you all guffawed. "Michael Bay just wants giant explosions!" Well, now who's laughing?
NASA and several other government agencies, that's who.
They have just announced a new asteroid defense plan that involves ramming deadly asteroids with a fleet of ships to knock them off course, but if that doesn't work, they've got the literal nuclear option: blasting space rocks with a huge nuclear warhead.
The proposal even has a Hollywood-appropriate name: HAMMER, which stands for "Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response."
The plan is meant to deal with asteroids like Bennu, an 87 million-ton, 1,600-foot asteroid that's currently orbiting the Sun. Though it's usually a safe distance from the Earth, there's a 1 in 2,700 chance that it will hit us in about one hundred years.
The general idea is that, with enough warning, space agencies can launch a fleet of 8.8-ton spacecraft to ram into a Bennu-like asteroid and slow it enough so that the Sun can exert more pull on it, changing its orbital path and saving the Earth from a collision. This is the "impactor" method, so-called because it involves changing the course of the asteroid with carefully timed impacts.
According to physicist David Dearborn, "If the asteroid is small enough, and we detect it early enough, we can do it with the impactor. The impactor is not as flexible as the nuclear option when we really want to change the speed of the body in a hurry."
If we get caught off guard (as we have multiple times in the past) and don't get the years—yes, years— of advance warning we need to set up an impactor mission, then our best bet is to load up one of those HAMMER spacecraft with a giant nuke. Though the US' current arsenal would work, having something even bigger would ensure that the asteroid is deflected.
Though there's no active plans to start building these asteroid-busting, nuke-carrying spacecraft, at least now we have a concrete plan...and proof Hollywood isn't quite as stupid as we thought.