How NASA's Asteroid Mission Will Head Off 'Armageddon'
By Alan Boyle
Experts say it’s just a matter of time before a killer asteroid comes hurtling toward us – but NASA is making progress on plans to grab a space rock and test technologies that could someday save the world.
The space agency’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission aims to net an asteroid by the mid-2020s so that scientists can run experiments on it.
Lindley Johnson, who's in charge of NASA's Near Earth Objects Program, explained the connection between netting a speeding extraterrestrial boulder and averting Armageddon on Thursday during a televised update on the space agency's Asteroid Initiative.
"Unfortunately, what you see in Hollywood is not always reality," he told NBC News. But he added that "the capabilities that we're looking at for demonstration by the robotic spacecraft are adding to our knowledge and techniques of what might be done for an asteroid that’s on a hazardous trajectory."
There are more than a million near-Earth asteroids out there, and experts estimate that about 20,000 of them have the potential to cause a city-sized catastrophe. Over the past 20 years, astronomers at NASA and other institutions have been making progress on cataloging the larger asteroids — but what if they find one that could pose a threat?
Practicing to protect the planet
That's where the Asteroid Retrieval Mission could make a start: The mission plan, which currently carries a price tag of $1.25 billion, calls for sending a solar-powered robotic spacecraft to snag a hunk of space rock — and bring it into a stable lunar orbit for study by astronauts. . . .
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