The space agency has unveiled a new program called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) that will detect and monitor objects heading close to Earth and coordinate efforts to mitigate their danger.
As NASA has previously noted, there are currently more than 13,500 near-Earth objects (NEOs) that we know about, although most have been deemed unhazardous. Around 1,500 new NEOs are detected every year.
“The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” says Lindsay Johnson, the program’s Planetary Defense Officer.
The PCDO will identify objects that are bigger than 140 metres wide and develop technologies for their deflection, should intervention be necessary.
While there are no known impact threats at this time, NASA administrator John Grunsfeld says “the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent 'Halloween Asteroid' close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.”
NASA has been planning different methods of planetary defense for some time. The space agency is currently working with a New York-based company to create the world’s first space shotgun.
In a joint project, NASA and the European Space Agency will attempt to alter the path of an asteroid by smashing into it with a probe.
An asteroid impact is just one threat to our existence. To find out more ways life as we know could end, don’t miss 10 Ways To End The World – tonight at 9.30pm AEDT/NZDT on National Geographic Channel.
Learn more about NASA’s plans for space exploration here.