Barely a week goes by without news of a near-miss from an asteroid, and a NASA scientist wants the world to be better protected.
The Solar System is full of objects, from tiny rocks barely bigger than a house brick to hefty moonless like the one that spelled the end of the dinosaurs.
And sooner or later, one will come along that’s on a direct collision course with the Earth.
One man who knows a bit more about space than most of us is Rusty Schweickart. He spent 241 hours in space on Apollo 9, performing the program’s first spacewalk.
And Rusty is concerned we have not made any concrete plans for how to deflect planet-killing space rocks.
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He discussed his concerns about asteroids with Russia Today: “They go around the Sun the same way that the Earth does, but their paths occasionally cross the orbit of the Earth.
“And, sooner or later, the Earth and the asteroid will be in the intersection at the same time. It’s just like two cars.”
He says we should have a plan in place before that happens. It’s not necessary to blow the incoming object up, like Brice Willis in Armageddon. Rusty says a small nudge, at the right moment, will be enough.
All we need to do, he says, is “to slow it down or speed it up a little bit, using space technology, so that it arrives slightly ahead of the Earth or behind the Earth.”
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Rusty has co-founded the non-profit B612 Foundation, which advocates for building a global asteroid defence shield.
He works alongside fellow astronauts like Dr Edward Lu and astronomers such as Harold Reitsma to motivate the scientific community and national governments to work together on a way of deflecting a doomsday asteroid.
Rusty says we should work on developing a comprehensive asteroid database as well as creating an early warning system to spot most dangerous objects out there.
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So far, Rusty says we’ve been lucky. But we only need to be unlucky once: “There have been mass extinctions in the past. And the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 64 million years ago wiped out 75% of all life that existed.
“So, yes, a city can be destroyed, a continent can be destroyed, and life on the planet can be destroyed. Civilisation is very fragile, frankly. So, it doesn’t take much to destroy civilisation.”
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