NASA chief warns killer asteroid could smash into Earth within our lifetime

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has warned that a killer asteroid could smash into the Earth within our lifetime, unless we do more to protect the planet.

Speaking at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in Washington yesterday, the NASA administrator cautioned against the so-called "giggle factor" when it comes to asteroids.

"We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it's not about the movies," Bridenstine said.

"This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know, right now, to host life – and that is the planet Earth."

He went on to reference the Chelyabinsk Event of February 2013, when a 65-foot meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia with the force of 30 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

It was the single largest recorded meteor strike in more than a century, after the Tunguska Event of 1908, which wiped out hundreds of square miles of forest in Eastern Russia.

More than 1,500 people were injured and 7,200 buildings damaged by the shock wave from the Chelyabinsk explosion, which rippled out for hundreds of miles.

"These events are not rare. They happen," said Bridenstine, adding that current models suggest similarly devastating events will occur once every 60 years.

"The fact is that we've had three such events in the last 100 years," he said.

His warning comes as NASA takes part in a rehearsal exercise, along with several other international organisations, to test the world's preparedness for an apocalyptic asteroid crash.

NASA has already detailed its plans to knock an asteroid off course by sending a spacecraft to deliberately crash into it.

The mission, called the  Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)  , aims to demonstrate NASA's capability to deflect any space rocks that are found to be on a collision course with Earth.

The space agency expects to launch the spacecraft in June 2021, with the aim of colliding with an asteroid known as Didymoon in October 2022.

"We have to use our systems, use our capabilities to ultimately get a lot more data, and we have to do it faster," Bridenstine said.

"We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space program. But we do, and we need to use it."

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