NASA plan could lead to ‘Armageddon’-style mission to save planet

NASA plan could lead to ‘Armageddon’-style mission to save planet
© Touchstone Pictures

NASA’s plan to rope in and study an asteroid could pave the way for a Hollywood-style mission to save the planet.

By 2025, the Obama administration has made it a goal to target, capture and “redirect” a small asteroid to put it into stable orbit near the Earth.

ADVERTISEMENT

The asteroid is considered a stepping-stone to the administration’s ultimate goal of a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

But it could also help perfect the technology that humanity might one day need to stop an asteroid from slamming into the globe as in “Armageddon” or “Deep Impact,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on Tuesday. 

“If we can do that and we get it into stable lunar orbit, we will have done something that is dramatically informative to humanity and may lead to the development of sustainable technologies that will then be able to save the planet,” Bolden said at the Humans to Mars conference.

“We are not going to save the planet, please understand me,” he cautioned.

“But we are going to inform those who follow us, after we demonstrate through the asteroid redirect mission that you can, in fact, do something that many people did not think was possible, and you can in fact move something that is God-made and headed around the sun, and you can deflect that ever so slightly.”

The tone is a striking change in posture from just a few years ago, when Bolden and others were lambasted by a House committee for failing to have a plan to thwart an asteroid or other object headed toward the Earth.

“The answer to you is, if it's coming in three weeks, pray,” Bolden said at a 2013 hearing.

Soon, there might be another option.

“We now have decided we’re going to invest in the technologies,” Bolden said on Tuesday.

Still, the asteroid mission won’t be quite on Hollywood's scale.

NASA is planning to use an unmanned probe to bring a boulder no larger than 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter into orbit around the moon. Then, humans will be able to meet up with the object, explore it and return with samples for analysis. 

But Bolden hopes the effort could incentivize private companies and other researchers to start exploring asteroids and potentially build the capability to stop an object from slamming into the planet when the time comes.

“People want to go back to ‘Okay, if it doesn’t get you to Mars, then don’t do it,’ ” Bolden said, referencing some opposition to the asteroid mission from House Republicans and other skeptics.

“Well, I’ve got other things I’m trying to do,” he said, “like help people save the planet.”