We Need to Get Serious About Asteroid Threats Says NASA Chief

NASA says planetary defence is just as important as any other work the agency does.
Jessica Miley

If the idea of an asteroid hitting the earth and wiping out humanity, you are part of the ‘giggle factor’ problem according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA says it is time to get serious about the possibility of a space rock colliding with us.


Bridenstine gave introductory remarks at the International Academy of Astronautics' 2019 Planetary Defense Conference held in College Park, Maryland this week, taking the opportunity to highlight just how important an asteroid threat is.

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

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

Near-earth object pose a real threat

The conference will examine all facets of planetary defense, including detecting, tracking and characterizing near-Earth objects, exploring ways to deflect potential impactors and understanding how to prepare emergency procedures to keep people safe if and when an impact does occur.

Bridenstine says the work is essential and core focus of NASA despite the Hollywood sounding scenarios.

"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," he said.

Defending planet is an important work

The top NASA exec says the Agency's asteroid detecting work is just as important as getting a mission back to Mars or a rover to Jupiter.

He also highlighted the work being done by JAXA. The Japanese space agency is currently in the middle of a very interesting asteroid mission.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is visiting asteroid Ryugu, where it is collecting samples and gathering data.

NASA is also involved in an asteroid mission with the OSIRIS-REx probe investigating at asteroid Bennu.

DART set to autonomously self-destruct 

NASA will launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, in 2022. The space probe is tasked with deliberately crashing into the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos.

Didymos’ primary body is actually too big for the experiment, but its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 150-meter across.

This is a more typical size of a near-earth object that would threaten Earth. DART will achieve kinetic impact by deliberately crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6 km/s.

DART will use an autonomous navigation system so that it can complete the task without assistance from ground control.

The impact is expected to change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, which is enough to be measured u on-Earth telescopes.