NASA needs help hunting down killer asteroids

Space agency issues 'Grand Challenge' to find asteroids that could threaten Earth

NASA wants to find asteroids that could threaten Earth and figure out what to do about them and it wants your help doing it.

The space agency today issued an asteroid-focused Grand Challenge, calling on scientists and citizen scientists to help in the hunt for killer asteroids.

"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95% of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, in a statement. "This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem."

Scientists at NASA have been focused on asteroids in recent months.

President Obama called on NASA to build the heavy-lift engines and robotics needed to send robots or humans to an asteroid. In April NASA announced its plan to capture and redirect an asteroid into Earth's orbit for study.

Studying asteroids and tracking any that could hit the Earth has received more attention since an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 15, creating a fireball that streaked across the sky, releasing a burst of energy and showering an area around Chelyabinsk, Russia, with meteorites.

Late last month, Bong Wie, director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, said the best way to keep an asteroid from crashing into Earth would be to nuke it.

Wie's team is developing a plan that would use a spacecraft to take a nuclear warhead to an asteroid headed toward the Earth and destroy it before it could enter Earth's atmosphere.

For NASA's Grand Challenge, Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said it's important for NASA to reach out to industry and scientists to deal with dangerous asteroids.

"I applaud NASA for issuing this Grand Challenge because finding asteroid threats, and having a plan for dealing with them, needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort," Kalil said. "The efforts of private-sector partners and our citizen scientists will augment the work NASA already is doing to improve near-Earth object detection capabilities."

NASA described the Grand Challenge as an ambitious goal to "capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology." It also released a request for information for ideas on the asteroid project that is open for 30 days. NASA will go over the ideas at a September workshop.

This article, NASA needs help hunting down killer asteroids, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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