NASA and President Obama are asking you, the people, to help them find dangerous asteroids hurtling on a death-path towards Earth. No pressure.
The initiative is the latest in Obama’s new series of 21st Century Grand Challenges, described by the White House as “ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems.” (Other Grand Challenges include curing brain disorders, inventing a widely-affordable electric car, and making solar energy a viable competitor with coal.) This time around—reportedly in the interest of “planetary defense”—the Grand Challenge is to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them,” according to NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.
Yeah, we know: the challenge sounds weirdly morbid—Quick! Be the first to find the Death Star that’s about to destroy humanity as we know it!—but it’ll actually help NASA perfect a system that could save the Earth from ultimate obliteration. Called the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), the program would ideally capture an Earth-bound asteroid and redirect it into orbit around the moon. Then, it’d send astronauts out to the moon’s orbit to check the asteroid out. NASA’s hoping the recently announced Grand Challenge will help them find a perfect guinea pig asteroid to test whether ARM could actually work.
Before you go reaching for your pocket binoculars, bear in mind that not just any ol’ asteroid will do. The Washington Post said NASA’s looking for a little one—under ten meters across—that’s moving less than 2km per second relative to the Earth, and ideally made of primordial rock dating back to the birth of the solar system.
So, godspeed, guys.