On December 30, 2016 the White House released its plan for Near-Earth Object Preparedness. The document details how we could stop an asteroid disaster from ever happening. Or, how to deal with the scenario should the Earth be hit by a large asteroid.
The report was published by a NASA organization known as Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth objects (DAMIEN). DAMIEN suggests that increasing our detection and tracking capabilities is one of our most important steps to preventing impacts here on Earth.
“Unlike other natural disasters and space weather events, NEO [near-Earth objects] impacts are predictable many years in advance and, most importantly, potentially preventable when a survey of the population is complete. Although currently a global leader in detecting and tracking NEOs, the United States will depend (in part) on international cooperation and coordination to help develop capabilities for characterization and future capabilities related to the development and implementation of deflection and disruption capabilities for NEOs.”
It’s believed it could take us up to eight years (or more) to prepare and mount a deflection or destruction mission, thus early detection is Earth’s best friend. Ideas to deflect the asteroid revolve around impactors to change trajectory. The Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) is planning to test a similar system in 2022.
The report goes into detail about responding to such an event, if an asteroid went undetected. Efforts would likely be similar to a hurricane or earthquake rescue mission with their own special protocols.
An asteroid is likely to make impact with Earth at some point in the future, we just don’t know when. It’s imperative we stay vigilant and detect any NEO we observe.