NASA's Grand Challenge Asks Public To Help Stop Asteroids From Destroying Earth

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 19, 2013 10:56 AM EDT

asteroid
In what NASA is calling the "Grand Challenge," the space agency is asking for the public's help in preventing asteroids from destroying Earth, like in this illustration. (Photo: NASA)

Asteroids destroying Earth might not just be the stuff of Hollywood, and to that end NASA announced a "Grand Challenge" yesterday, a project to gather information and suggestions from astronomers and the public about ways to deal with Earth-bound asteroids.

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The mission of the Grand Challenge was projected in plain, direct language during a NASA press conference yesterday: "Find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them."

"The purpose of the Grand Challenge is a call to action to continue the awareness around the issue of asteroid threats," Jason Kessler, NASA's program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge, told NBC News.

NASA describes the Grand Challenge as "a large-scale effort that will use multi-disciplinary collaborations and a variety of partnerships with other government agencies, international partners, industry, academia, and citizen scientists."

Kessler called asking academics and the public for help "a recognition of the world that we now live in," adding, "We are more connected and better educated, and this is an opportunity to take advantage of all those aspects."

Kessler cited GalaxyZoo, a project which bills itself as "web-based Citizen Science projects that use the efforts and abilities of volunteers to help researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them," as an example of the public helpfully sifting through large amounts of data.

"We have a large data set already associated with asteroids," Kessler said. "Are there ways that we can creatively bring people in to help with this problem?"

While NASA claims to have found 95 percent of asteroids near Earth's orbit,  said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, they're looking for find even more than that, and want to involve the public in what could become a global problem.

As part of the Grand Challenge to stop asteroids from destroying Earth, NASA issued a request for information, or RFI, yesterday. The purpose of the RFI is to solicit ideas from scientists, academics and the public about how best to deal with earth-bound asteroids, and ideas are due to NASA by July 18.

"We're asking for you to think about concepts and different approaches for what we've described here," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human explorations and operations, during the press conference. "We want you to think about other ways of enhancing this to get the most out of it."

One plan NASA might want to look at is that of Bong Wie, director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, who last month called for sending a high-speed aircraft with a nuclear warhead towards any dangerous Earth-bound asteroid, with the purpose of nuking the asteroid.

The Grand Challenge complements NASA's other recent asteroid project, which is to capture an asteroid, pull it to the moon and send astronauts to study it.  

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