Space Explorers Plead With UN to Prepare for Killer Asteroids

By Eliza Strickland | September 26, 2008 7:40 pm

asteroid impactThis week, an international group of astronauts and legal experts met to consider a dire but hypothetical threat to life on earth: another massive asteroid impact, like the one that researchers believe ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The group, the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), concluded their meeting by asking the United Nations to prepare an international response for when a dangerous object is detected heading towards our planet. Says astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who flew into orbit with the Apollo 9 mission: “Until we have a response in place, we’re as vulnerable as the dinosaurs” [The Register].

In the report, titled Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response, the team reminds the public of the asteroid Apophis, which gave humanity a brief scare in 2004 when researchers calculated that it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the earth in the year 2029. That calamitous prediction was soon refuted by further data on Apophis’ trajectory, but the new report notes that the asteroid, also known as a “near earth object” or NEO, has a 1-in-45,000 chance of striking Earth in 2036. Currently, NASA is watching 209 NEOs, none of which is considered to be dangerous. But a threat is likely to be detected within the next 15 years, according to the ASE. “New telescopes coming online will increase these discoveries by a factor of 100,” said Ed Lu, astronaut on space shuttle Atlantis [New Scientist].

Schweickart says that he doesn’t expect the United Nations itself to embark on any space missions to deflect or destroy asteroids, he just wants somebody to be in charge of making decisions about such undertakings. “When you have an asteroid threatening Earth, it’s uncertain where it’s going to hit until the last minute; the decision to take action has to be coordinated by the international community…. We’ve developed a program to get the international community prepared to make timely decisions so the technology we know we have can be used to protect life” [Scientific American].

Several proposals have been advanced in the past for ways to deflect an asteroid, including a concept released by the European Space Agency to send up a pair of spacecraft in what it called the Don Quixote mission; the spacecraft Hidalgo would barrel into the asteroid, while it partner, Sancho, would hover nearby to watch for a trajectory change. Meanwhile, the non-profit Planetary Society held a competition asking participants to design a mission to rendezvous with the asteroid Apophis and tag it with a monitoring device.

DISCOVER recently examined the threat from lurking asteroids and how they could be destroyed; read all about it in the article “What To Do Before the Asteroid Strikes.

Image: NASA

Related Posts:
Europeans Lay Out Plans to Bring Asteroid Chunks Back to Earth
European Spacecraft Buzzes Past an Asteroid, Takes Pictures
Massive Asteroid Impact Made Mars Lopsided

  • arthur

    Great Idea to setup a monitoring and response agencey for this or ANY massive disaster…well if the meteor dont strike, what happens with another massive earthquake, tsunami, hurricane…..we have to realize that Earth is small and we need to responsible enough to act accrodingly. Remember how disastrous the federal response was to the US Hurricane Katrina calamity….the Xmas Tsunami in the South Pacific…the horrible disaster in China!!! Now just think if a meteor did smash into the planet…and if you are thinking and going…i dont know what i would do??? I can bet you a million $$ no govt on the planet does either.

  • D4devil

    Most of govts. thnk bout only der country n der ppl,n dat SUX>:( than da threatening asteroid,even i bet wit arthur,it wud b bettr 2 thnk bout somethng more dangerous thn epidemics n terrorism,if dis thng hits da earth,thn der wud b nothng 2 thnk of,so ppl,try 2 gt a solution ovr dis… :-)

  • Jeremy

    Dear D4devil….its just that kind of texting that will force God’s hand to aim an asteroid our way and start all over.

  • Jeremy

    Dear D4devil,
    It’s just that kind of texting that will force God’s hand into aiming an asteroid our way and start all over.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar