NASA report: How to defend Earth from asteroids

An artist's illustration of asteroids, or near-Earth objects, that highlight the need for a complete Space Situational Awareness system. ESA/P.Carril

The results of a workshop to find the best ways to find, track and deflect asteroids headed for Earth were released by NASA on Feb. 7.

NASA's Asteroid Initiative, started in 2013, includes a mission to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and drag it into a stable orbit around the moon, and a challenge to devise the best ideas for detecting and defending against potentially dangerous asteroids.

The agency put out a request for information to refine the objectives of the Asteroid Initiative, to generate other mission concepts and increase participation in the mission and planetary defense. [NASA's Asteroid-Capture Mission in Pictures]

NASA received an enthusiastic response, including from the general public. The agency evaluated the ideas it received and chose 96 of them to explore further at a two-part workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 30 and Nov. 20 to 22, 2013.

"We are already acting on the ideas submitted through the [request] process," NASA said in a statement.

For example, the agency reactivated the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft, now known as NEOWISE, in Sept. 2013, to look for near-Earth asteroids that could be targets for the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The workshop report also recommended holding more forums to get citizens involved in the Asteroid Initiative and create incentives to reach milestones in the asteroid mission and grand challenge.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission aims to capture a 23- to 33-foot (7 to 10 meters) asteroid, or a 1- to 33-foot. (1 to 10 m) boulder on a space rock, then haul it into lunar orbit using an unmanned spacecraft. Astronauts could then visit the asteroid using NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System rocket, bring samples of the rock down to Earth.

The Grand Challenge seeks to identify all asteroids that could pose a threat to humanity and boost NASA's current planetary defense efforts.

As a whole, the Asteroid Initiative aims to combine NASA's efforts in human space exploration, space technology and space science to achieve the first human mission to rendezvous with asteroid material and to improve our ability to track and prevent potential asteroid impacts.

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