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NASA's Planetary Defense Strategy: Protecting Earth From Asteroids and Comets

NASA recently released its new planetary defense strategy and action plan to protect Earth from asteroids and comets. The plan includes six key objectives and is expected to be achieved over the next decade. The objectives include improving detection and characterization of near-Earth objects (NEOs), developing and demonstrating NEO mitigation technologies, fostering international collaboration related to NEO surveying and mitigation, strengthening interagency coordination, reviewing agency planning, and better integrating messaging regarding planetary defense work with the agency's strategic communications.

Why Planetary Defense is a Critical Issue

An asteroid impact with Earth has potential for catastrophic devastation, and it is also the only natural disaster humanity now has sufficient technology to completely prevent. The impact craters on Earth are reminders that asteroids and comets strike the planet from time to time, and it is not a question of "if" but "when" our planet will face an impending strike from space. NASA's plan to protect Earth from a devastating encounter with a NEO is a critical issue.

NASA's Planetary Defense Strategy and Action Plan

The 46-page "NASA Planetary Defense Strategy and Action Plan" was released on April 18, 2023. The report focuses on enhancing the detection, characterization, and responses to impact threats as well as improving international cooperation for coordinating strategies among government agencies. The six key objectives are defined into short-term, medium-term, long-term, and ongoing timelines with the goal of meeting all objectives within the next 10 years.

Improving NEO Survey, Detection, and Characterization Efforts

The first objective of the plan is to improve NEO survey, detection, and characterization efforts to work toward a completed catalogue of all NEOs that might pose an impact hazard to Earth. NASA wants to identify all NEOs that come within 42 million km (30 million miles) of the Earth's orbital path. This will help to provide advanced warning of an impending NEO impact.

Developing and Demonstrating NEO Mitigation Technologies

The second objective is to develop and demonstrate NEO mitigation technologies similar to the agency's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. The DART mission demonstrated one method of asteroid deflection using a kinetic impactor spacecraft. NASA plans to develop more NEO mitigation technologies to increase the likelihood of a successful deflection.

Fostering International Collaboration

The third objective is to foster international collaboration related to NEO surveying and mitigation to leverage international capabilities. NASA plans to work with other countries to ensure that all NEOs are detected and catalogued. This will help to provide a global response to an impending NEO impact.

Strengthening Interagency Coordination

The fourth objective is to strengthen interagency coordination between NASA and other U.S. government agencies to enhance and streamline U.S. government NEO preparedness and response planning. This will ensure that all government agencies are working together to prevent an NEO impact.

Reviewing Agency Planning

The fifth objective is to review the agency's internal planning to maximize the benefits obtained from limited resources. This will help to ensure that NASA is using its resources in the most effective way to prevent an NEO impact.

Integrating Messaging Regarding Planetary Defense Work

The sixth objective is to better integrate messaging regarding planetary defense work with the agency's strategic communications. NASA plans to increase public awareness of the NEO threat and the agency's efforts to protect Earth from a devastating impact.

NEO Surveyor Mission

One of the missions that NASA is undertaking to protect Earth from NEOs is the Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission. This space telescope is designed to detect near-Earth asteroids as part of NASA's planetary defense efforts. The mission is set to launch no earlier than 2028, and NASA has been directed to spend no less than $90 million on the benefit of all. It also highlights the importance of international collaboration and coordination in planetary defense efforts.

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