NASA approves continued development of asteroid hunter space telescope

Science and Health

Earth’s defense against the dangers of asteroid impacts have taken another step forward after NASA approved the continued development of the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor space telescope.

Coming after its successful mission review, the telescope helps NASA detect near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets that come within a range of 30 million miles of the planet’s orbit.
This comes amid NASA’s efforts to detect at least 90% of all NEOs that are larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size, and so far, they’ve already detected around 40% of them, according to NASA’s website.
“Each night, astronomers across the globe diligently use ground-based optical telescopes to discover new NEOs, characterize their shape and size, and confirm they do not pose a threat to us,” Kelly Fast, program manager for NASA’s NEO Observations Program, said in a statement on NASA’s website. “Those telescopes are only able to look for NEOs in the night sky. NEO Surveyor would allow observations to continue day and night, specifically targeting regions where NEOs that could pose a hazard might be found and accelerating the progress toward the Congressional goal.” 
The potential damage caused by the impact of a large asteroid on Earth could be catastrophic, if not outright apocalyptic. As such, maintaining awareness of all NEOs is of the utmost importance, as is devising different ways to potentially avert such an impact, should one be needed.
One of these projects, also part of the efforts of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which proposed sending a rocket at an asteroid to utilize speed and its impact to alter an asteroid’s trajectory ever so slightly, enough to throw it off course.
Or, in layman’s terms, punching it with a rocket with enough speed to change its direction by a fraction of a percent.

The DART Mission is set to be tested in late July, with the specialized spacecraft to be launched and directed at an asteroid far away in the Didymos asteroid system – which doesn’t pose any threat to Earth. It is expected to arrive and finish its mission by September 2022.
This would be mankind’s first actual battle with an asteroid, a matchup that until now had only existed in the realms of science fiction. There, it’s a staple of the genre, and nuclear weapons are often used to blast it apart.
The idea is very spectacular to think about, and makes for an impressive visual for science fiction films. In real life, however, the idea is not ideal at best, and potentially catastrophic at worst. This is because destroying an asteroid will result in the formation of smaller rocks, still likely heading towards our planet. If they get through Earth’s atmosphere, the damage they could cause would still be severe.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still dangers. As noted by NASA, unknown and undetected NEOs could still have unpredicted impacts. This is exactly what happened in 2013, when an asteroid the size of a house entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in Russia. Traveling at a speed of over 11 miles per second, the asteroid exploded 14 miles above the ground with the force of approximately 440,000 tons of TNT. The shock wave broke windows in a range of 200 square miles, damaged buildings and injured around 1,600 people.
This asteroid had been undetected at the time, and NASA wants to make sure nothing like that can happen again. Efforts like the DART Mission and the NEO Surveyor are all part of this effort.