Nasa sets up team to save Earth from asteroids by spotting them and planning the planet’s response

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office will take the lead on spotting dangerous asteroids, as well as organising how the various agencies on Earth respond to them

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 14 January 2016 12:13

Nasa has formed a special office that will try to spot and then save us from potentially hazardous asteroids.

The agency has formally created the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which brings lots of its existing asteroid missions together. The office will look after Nasa’s projects to find and characterise asteroids, as well as co-ordinating the response to any that threaten to hit us.

Nasa says that it has been involved in “worldwide planning for planetary defense for some time”. But now it will step up its work with agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others to help work to organise the US and Earth’s response to any asteroid impacts and following disasters.

That work includes spectacular efforts like Nasa’s Asteroid Redirect Mission concept, which would show that it is possible to use the gravity of one object to pull an asteroid off its path. The European Space Agency is also working with Nasa on a plan that would see it deflect an asteroid away from any possible collision.

"The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defence," said Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive and now lead program executive for the office, with the title of Planetary Defense Officer, said in a statement.

Nasa said that recent surprise asteroid strikes and near-misses are a reminder that not all close-by asteroids have been spotted and catalogued by Nasa. While there is no known imminent threat from an asteroid, recent events have shown that they can emerge with little warning.

"Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. "While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent 'Halloween Asteroid' close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky."

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