Planet Earth isn't unfamiliar to space rock raining through the atmosphere to strike terra firma, but asteroids nevertheless are a very real threat to humanity - researchers today suggest an asteroid big enough to cause serious damage to the global economy occurs every 200 to 300 years. Which is why a portion of last week's 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting in Virginia was devoted to talking up solutions to such a crisis: the solution to destroying an Earth-bound asteroid mid-flight with a nuclear explosion. That's right, Armageddon style.
Discussing a mission concept which will involve an unmanned spacecraft – currently in development, known as the Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle (HAIV) – the mission would involve a one-two gut-punch to the asteroid in question. The first, a non-nuclear blast on the very surface of the rock, would be enough to blow a large crater into the side of the asteroid (around 330 feet wide), enough for a nuclear bomb to explode inside. (Scientists estimate at a depth of 10 feet, the bomb's destructive power is around twenty times greater.) A nuclear blast follows just fractions of a second after, blowing the asteroid to bits and sending lumps of space rock hurtling into the vacuum of space. Only a fraction of which would hit the Earth, albeit representing a tiny portion of the asteroid's total mass.
“Using our proposed concept, we do have a practically viable solution — a cost-effective, economically viable, technically feasible solution,” study leader Bong Wie, of Iowa State University said. “Our ultimate goal is to be able to develop about a $500 million flight demo mission within a 10-year time-frame. "Once we develop technology to be used in this situation, we are ready to avoid any collision - with much larger size, with much longer warning time.” Crisis averted.