NASA's new planetary defense program is officially up and running

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Jan 31, 2016, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

If an asteroid is barreling toward the Earth, the folks at NASA have a plan in place to find it and (hopefully) stop it. You know, assuming Russia doesn’t just blow the rock out of the sky first.

The space agency has launched its Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), designed to coordinate the United States’ efforts to address the lingering threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs). According to, the new office will supervise all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that visit Earth's “neighborhood.” We’ll also point out: That name is awesome, and when we eventually have Space Marines, they need to fall under Planetary Defense. Just sayin’.

"Our job is to look for that and identify a NEO as far in advance as we can," Johnson told "Doing so means we have the maximum amount of time to appropriately deal with the object, be it a small impactor or something that's larger, calling for a kinetic impactor mission, or whatever needs to be done.”

First up for the PDCO is an open forum as part of the United Nation's Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), in an effort to foster a spirit of communication among several nations. The agency will also be coordinating with the European Space Agency (which has its own tracking programs), along with piloting a Planetary Impact Emergency Response Working Group with FEMA, in the event of an actual impact.

Humanity still has a long way to go in its efforts to track and (ideally) prevent a potential asteroid collision, but these initiatives are a huge step in the right direction. We want to eventually reach Mars, sure — but we also need to have an Earth to return home to once the mission is over.


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