Scared about the end times? Nasa has a plan that means we might survive the impending cataclysm after all
By Sean Keach
There’s no immediate threat (thankfully), but if the day arises when space rocks come calling, Nasa now has a workable plan.
The US space agency has released an 18-page document titled the “National near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan”.
It describes a number of steps that need to be taken to prepare for an incoming asteroid – including potential ways to dispatch it.
“An asteroid impact is one of the possible scenarios that we must be prepared for,” said Leviticus Lewis, the chief of FEMA, a US emergency department that worked with Nasa on the report.
He added that it’s a “low-probability but high-consequence event”, and that “some degree of preparedness is necessary”.
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday evening, Nasa’s planetary defense officer (yes, that’s a real job) Lindley Johnson explained the reasoning behind the plan.
“This plan is an outline not only to enhance the hunt for hazardous asteroids, but also to better predict their chances of being an impact threat well into the future and the potential effects that it could have on Earth.
He added that the plan will help “step up our efforts to demonstrate possible asteroid deflection and other mitigation techniques, and to better formalize across the U.S. government the processes and protocols for dissemination of the best information available so that timely decisions can be made.”
Nasa’s five-step plan for saving the Earth from space death
In the 18-page plan, Nasa outlined five key ways it would avoid the total destruction of Earth and all human life.
Step One – Nasa wants to get better at tracking asteroids through space.
There are already a number of observatories around the world that Nasa uses to spot deadly asteroids, but sometimes we only catch them very late – just hours before impact.
Nasa said it wants to “identify opportunities in existing and planned telescope programs to improve detection and tracking, by enhancing the volume and quality of current data streams”.
More awareness of asteroids equals less chance of total annihilation, which makes sense.
Step Two – Once you’ve spotted an asteroid, it’s all about working out when and where it’s going to smack into Earth.
Nasa’s second aim is to improve this process, so that when it sees incoming objects, it can accurately predict exactly what sort of cataclysm we’re facing.
It wants to work with other agencies to improving “modelling, prediction and information integration” – which sounds boring, but could probably save us all from certain death.
Step Three – Nasa’s third goal is to find out a half-decent way of deflecting asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
This will involve developing new tech to enable “rapid-response NEO [near-Earth objects] reconnaissance missions”.
The idea is that we send a spacecraft out towards asteroids, and then knock them off course somehow, saving the planet.
There’s already a planned mission – called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test – scheduled fore 2021 that will do exactly this.
Its target practice will go into effect in 2022, with the asteroid system Didymos.
Step Four – No man is an island, so they say – and that includes Nasa.
The fourth objective is to boost international cooperation, because more eyes on the sky can only be a good thing when it comes to spotting falling rocks of death.
“It’s a global hazard that we all face together, and the best way to approach and address that hazard is cooperatively,” said Aaron Miles, who works on science policy at the White House.
They want to develop an international response strategy for incoming asteroids, which would involve sharing data, and smashing space rocks together.
Step Five – The final (and most necessary step) is to develop a proper step-by-step plan for when a large asteroid is spotted heading for Earth.
This will involve improving emergency exercises ahead of time, so that everyone doesn’t panic when the big day comes.
It means Nasa and FEMA will need to get better at notifying people who might be affected, putting in effective natural disaster alerts for the public.