Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Planning for Star Wars: space threat experts still watching the skies

With governmental concern focused more on Armageddon of the financial kind over the past couple of years, it may sound like a costly extravagance to talk about asteroid-detection and deflection systems.

The end of the world, however, isn't something that is particularly concerned about whether we can afford to thwart it or not. Thankfully, the issue of global destruction at the hands of a sizeable lump of space rock has not dropped off the scientific radar. Late last month, representatives of the American, Russian and other national space programs met for three days at the European Space Agency's Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

Their goal is to put together a Mission Planning and Operations Group (MPOG) to develop a global asteroid threat response. Participants studied several plausible impact scenarios to identify best responses to such an emergency.

Earlier John Holdren, President Obama's science and technology adviser, sent the House Committee on Science and Technology a letter calling for NASA to play a leading role in detecting and deflecting deep-space objects that threaten Earth.

Former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart attended the Darmstadt meeting and told Space.com that disastrous asteroid impacts "can be prevented ... only, however, if we properly prepare and work together with other nations around the world."

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