Near-Earth asteroid Eros
For all the man-made catastrophes humans have to fear, there are natural ones too, like volcanic explosions, earthquakes, and asteroids. They’ve all caused widespread chaos and extinctions throughout Earth’s history. And while we can predict and prepare for these occurrences, to some degree, the general stance on these phenomena is that humans can do nothing about them—they’re products of nature at its most powerful and undiscriminating. But recently, NASA and other space agencies around the world have discussed various strategies for avoiding a direct hit by an asteroid
. They’ve got a spacecraft
specifically devoted to hunting these space rocks–both to identify threats and to look out for mining possibilities–guidelines for protection, a space cannon
to blast away any that are too close for comfort, solar-powered laser plans
, and something called the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). This last one is a plan to guide a near-Earth asteroid into orbit
around the moon for future exploration.
While capturing one would prove our ability to manipulate the trajectory of a big hunk of space rock, which could be a starting point for asteroid redirection, this mission probably isn’t going to save us from one on a collision course with Earth. ARM involves blowing off a small chunk (just over 30 feet in diameter) from an asteroid and towing that into lunar orbit in a bag. The program is less focused on cataclysm avoidance, which some people take issue with, and more centered on what we can learn, especially stuff that might apply to putting humans on Mars. It’s becoming clear that most experts believe ARM is basically a bad excuse for sucking up resources.