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Averting Disaster

A Russian scientist said Friday that a massive asteroid said to be heading for Earth could be destroyed with the help of a powerful laser.

He was speaking after space experts warned this week that an asteroid, spotted from several different countries, could hit Earth in 2019, destroying life as we know it.

Boris Kartogin, general director and designer at rocket producer Energomash, was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying the asteroid could be thwarted, using a powerful laser installation based in space.

"Defenses for the Earth can be designed," Kartogin told a news conference.

Lasers in space were hugely controversial during U.S. President Ronald Reagan's term in office in the 1980s. His scheme to shoot down Soviet nuclear missiles was dubbed "Star Wars" after the cult science fiction film series.

The 1.2-mile wide asteroid was first detected earlier this month by the United States Linear sky survey program.

But NASA scientists are downplaying the danger of a collision, saying the odds are minimal.

Kartogin said the laser defense scheme would require the assembly of 10 to 12 platforms in Earth's orbit, which would then be equipped with powerful, chemical lasers capable of destroying the approaching asteroid.

He added that "a laser of such power does not yet exist, but the international community is already seriously talking about the need to create one."

Energomash is carrying out work on laser technology.

Scientists from several countries, including Russia, are already studying ways to defend the planet from an asteroid collision.

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