Fact following fiction? Scientists plan mission to blow up an asteroid ‘hurtling towards Earth’
- Plan is similar to the plot of Hollywood film Armageddon
Last updated at 7:58 AM on 17th August 2011
It seemed far-fetched on the silver screen.
But the European Space Agency is planning to launch a mission similar to the plot of Hollywood movie Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis and his intrepid team attempt to blow up a huge asteroid that’s hurtling towards Earth.
The real version, if it goes ahead in 2015, will see a satellite fired at break-neck speed into a ‘test’ asteroid to see if its course changes.
The aim is to assess whether it would be possible to save Earth using this method, should we discover that an asteroid is on a collision course with our planet.
The mission, called Don Quijote, will involve sending two spacecraft towards a near-Earth asteroid.
One will be an ‘impactor’, which is fired into the asteroid, the other an orbitor that will analyse data from the experiment.
One potential target is a 1600ft-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis, which experts say does have a minute chance – around one in 250,000 – of hitting Earth in 2036, so it would be useful target practice.
The 500kg impact craft, which will be called Hidalgo, will ram into the asteroid at a speed of around six miles a second.
The orbitor, called Sancho, will scan the collision and monitor whether the asteroid changes direction at all.
There will be a lot of fingers crossed in mission control, as a big asteroid impact could wipe out life on Earth.
Nasa, meanwhile, is planning something even more spectacular.
It wants to put humans on the surface of an asteroid within 15 years.
But sending people to one won’t be easy. You can’t land on an asteroid because you’d bounce off – it has virtually no gravity. Astronauts couldn’t even walk on it because they’d float away.
Reaching it might require a Nasa spacecraft to harpoon the space rock.
Nasa is thinking about jetpacks, tethers, bungees, nets and spiderwebs to allow explorers to float just above the surface of it while attached to a smaller mini-spaceship.
Kent Joosten, chief architect of the human exploration team at Johnson Space Center, said: ‘This is the big step. This is out into the universe, away from Earth’s gravity completely… This is really where you are doing the Star Trek kind of thing.