Scientists developing mission concept that would blow apart space rock threatening Earth.
Destroying a dangerous asteroid with a nuclear bomb is a well-worn trope of science fiction, but it could become reality soon enough.
Scientists are developing a mission concept that would blow apart an Earth-threatening asteroid with a nuclear explosion, just like Bruce Willis and his oilmen-turned-astronaut crew did in the 1998 film "Armageddon."
But unlike in the movie, the spacecraft under development — known as the Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle, or HAIV — would be unmanned. It would hit the space rock twice in quick succession, with the non-nuclear first blow blasting out a crater for the nuclear bomb to explode inside, thus magnifying its asteroid-shattering power.
"Using our proposed concept, we do have a practically viable solution — a cost-effective, economically viable, technically feasible solution," study leader Bong Wie, of Iowa State University, said Wednesday at the 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting in Virginia. [ 5 Reasons to Care About Asteroids ]
When, not if Earth has been pummeled by asteroids throughout its 4.5 billion-year history, and some of the strikes have been catastrophic. For example, a 6-mile-wide (10 kilometers) space rock slammed into the planet 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs.
So humanity needs to have a plan in hand to deal with the next threatening asteroid, many scientists stress.
hat plan should include deflection strategies, they say. Given a few decades of lead time, a threatening space rock could be nudged off course — perhaps by employing a tag-along "gravity tractor" probe, or even by painting the asteroid white and letting sunlight give it a push.
But humanity also needs to be prepared for an asteroid that pops up on scientists' radar just weeks before a potential impact. That scenario might demand the nuclear option that Wie and his colleagues are working to develop.
|NASA / Bong Wie / Iowa State University - This diagram shows a mission concept that would destroy an asteroid with a nuclear bomb, which would detonate in a crater blasted out by a smaller impactor.|
A one-two punch NASA engineers identified 168 technical flaws in "Armageddon," Wie said. But one thing the movie got right is the notion that a nuke will be far more effective if it explodes inside an asteroid rather than at its surface. (At a depth of 10 feet, or 3 meters, the bomb's destructive power would be about 20 times greater, Wie said.)
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