Since the termination of NASA’s shuttle program, the national space agency lacks a clearly defined purpose. One astronomer, Edward Lu, says saving the planet from a lethal asteroid strike could breath life into the agency, not to mention prevent planetary extinction. By making an infrared survey of space (asteroids are warmer than the background sky), we could gain a good idea of what is headed our way in the next century. The costs of the mission would be high but much lower than NASA’s current budget.
What’s the Big Idea?
In 1908, an asteroid crashed down in Siberia destroying an area of land 150 times the size of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Lu estimates that the chances of this happening again in present century are about one in two. While NASA is currently tracking asteroids known to present existential threats to the planet, many large enough to destroy entire countries remain unobserved. Lu asks: “What project is more worthwhile in the long term or awe-inspiring in the short term than protecting humanity from ruin?”