The human race has had a good run. We made a lot of mistakes, but we also invented the taco. Now it seems our time is coming to an end, at least if an asteroid heads our way. A new NASA report finds the planet is currently unprepared for the threat of a disastrous asteroid impact.
All right, that's a shamelessly hyperbolic way to frame our chances of continued survival. We've never been sufficiently prepared for this kind of impact, and we got this far. The good news is, NASA is taking steps to make sure we're prepared in the future — not just for the sort of major impact that could wipe us all out, but for impacts by smaller asteroids that would only devastate a huge chunk of the world's population.
The bad news is, it's going to take a while to get ready. A report issued yesterday by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy reveals that NASA has come up with a new plan for dealing with the threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids. Based on stategies devised under the Obama administration, the plan includes developing new technologies to hunt and track smaller NEOs, including a space-based infrared telescope called NEOCam, and new techologies to disrupt or deflect these objects.
The plan draws on existing resources, including $60 million in planetary defense funding that was approved in 2017, but NASA is also seeking budget approval for a new asteroid-deflecting spacecraft technology under a program called DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test.
The new plan should hopefully speed up NASA's tracking of NEOs. Objects with a size greater than 140 meters across could strike our planet with greater force than any nuclear device ever tested, and thus far NASA has only found about a third of those objects. Using current technology, NASA would need until 2033 to find and track less than half.
But don't worry, even if the sky does fall on our heads, NASA's plan also involves working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine emergency responses to an asteroid strike. A spokesman for FEMA maintains that an asteroid impact remains a low probability event — but the consequences could be so serious that it's necessary to be prepared.
The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Stategy and Action Plan is avilable as a PDF from the White House website.