NASA's Planned Asteroid Defense Experiment May Not Be Approved by Congress

Thursday, 27 September 2018 - 1:21PM
Space
Technology
NASA
Thursday, 27 September 2018 - 1:21PM
NASA's Planned Asteroid Defense Experiment May Not Be Approved by Congress
< >
Pixabay Composite
Earlier this year, we got excited about NASA's newly announced asteroid defense plans, which included ramming potentially cataclysmic space rocks with specially designed spacecraft (or blowing them off-course with nuclear weapons). The first test of these plans, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), has been tentatively scheduled for December 2020, but it looks like approval for NASA's $100 million boost in funding for the its Planetary Defense office may be tied up on Capitol Hill. Without the funding, DART may not materialize—along with NASA's initiatives to protect Earth from asteroids.

The new fiscal year begins next Monday, but so far the bill to give NASA its extra funding hasn't been approved. If it doesn't go through now, it'll have to wait until December, when it can be reconsidered as part of a new spending package. According to NASA's Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson, cutting off that money is a decision that will put humanity at risk: "If [an asteroid 140 meters long] were to impact near a metropolitan area, it would be a disaster on a scale more than anything we've tried to deal with in our history."

And that's just the small ones. According to Johnson, there are roughly 10,000 objects about the length of a football field or greater within 30 million miles of Earth, 950 of which are large enough to "a global disaster" if they collided with our planet.

The new push to develop NASA's asteroid defenses may seem like something out of Star Wars, but Johnson says the threat is real: "Thirty years ago, there were maybe only a handful of astronomers that thought there was any danger. It is because nobody had really looked at what is out there. We have got to find them first before we can do anything about them." Johnson is referencing NASA's current strategy of finding potentially deadly asteroids years in advance and using methods like the ones in DART to nudge them off course before it's too late.

However, Senator Ted Cruz may have made the point more strongly than anyone: "What steps do we need to be taking so that we don't have to rely on sending Bruce Willis to space to save humanity?"

via GIPHY

Science
Science News
Space
Technology
NASA
No