NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took the stage of this year’s Planetary Defence Conference on Monday to issue a stark warning: people should be ready for a major threat from a killer asteroid that could collide with Earth if our planet is not better protected.
“We have to use our systems, use our capabilities to ultimately get a lot more data, and we have to do it faster. We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space programme. But we do, and we need to use it”, he said.
Bridenstine continued by saying that normally the idea of a giant interstellar object smashing into Earth is met with a “giggle factor”, but people should not have that false sense of security somehow imposed on them by a myriad of themed Hollywood blockbusters.
“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about the movies. This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know, right now, to host life and that is the planet Earth”, the scientist added.
NASA’s chief made a reference to a 65-foot (20-metre) meteor that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, just 14 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The flaming meteorite crashed with a massive boom, blowing out windows, damaging thousands of buildings in the area and injuring about 1,500 people, mostly from broken glass.
“These events are not rare. They happen”, he maintained.
Last week, NASA announced that it had teamed up with international partners to perform a “tabletop exercise” on how to handle a hypothetical asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
“These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defence community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know. This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments”, NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson said.
Aside from the aforementioned plans, NASA is getting ready for its first spacecraft impact asteroid redirect mission, dubbed “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART), which is set for June 2021.