NASA wants your help to save Earth from dangerous asteroids

By James Maynard , Jun 18, 2013 07:29 PM EDT

NASA summoned a group of business leaders together on June 18 with the purpose of planning how to save the world from incoming asteroids.

The space agency launched two new efforts to help protect the Earth from incoming space rocks. The first is the latest in the NASA's Grand Challenge contests, which award prize money to the group who can solve a specific large problem. The ambitious goal of this Grand Challenge is to find all asteroids which could endanger Earth and decide what to do about the threats. The second request for help from NASA is a request for information (RFI) which invites industry and private leaders to help locate, identify and re-direct near-Earth-objcts (NEO's).

The space agency believes they know of 95 percent of the large asteroids that travel near the Earth, and they hope to capture one by 2025. They already have located three objects in space - each of them about 30 feet wide, that are candidates to be redirected into less dangerous orbits. One idea is to use solar sails to drag the large rocks into orbit around the Moon. NASA is already planning on practicing this maneuver with a non-dangerous body as part of their Asteroid Initiative program, possibly taking place in 2021.

"The average person is oblivious to the threat. Unlike other natural disasters, we can avert this. It allows us to avoid becoming like the dinosaurs," Charles Bolden, NASA chief, said.

The challenge and the RFI were announced at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, during their asteroid initiative industry and partner day. It is hoped that these drives will bring together industry, research institutions and amateur scientists in the quest to protect the planet from the danger presented by unseen asteroids.

"This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem," Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator, said.

In addition to the obvious advantages of being the company that saves the world from a big blast from space, NASA has also allocated $105 million dollars to deflect incoming asteroids.

The threat from asteroids has become more apparent since the explosion of a meteor over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on February 15, the same day an asteroid 300 feet across passed closer to the Earth than the Moon.

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