Asteroid Challenge Issued By NASA
June 19, 2013

NASA ‘Grand Asteroid Challenge’ Asks Private Sector To Help Hunt Down Asteroids

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA is looking for asteroids, and is seeking help from citizen scientists to locate the dangerous space rocks and reduce the potential threats they may pose to human populations.

"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

The space agency introduced the “Asteroid Grand Challenge" during a news conference at its Washington headquarters on Tuesday, and unveiled some of the details surrounding its comprehensive Asteroid Initiative.

"This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem."

The Challenge also complements NASA´s recently announced mission to redirect an asteroid and send humans to study it.

Along with citizen scientists, the large-scale Asteroid Initiative will rely on multi-disciplinary collaborations and a variety of partnerships with other government agencies, international partners, industry and academia, NASA said.

The space agency released a request for information (RFI) that invites industry and potential partners to offer ideas on accomplishing NASA's goal to locate, redirect, and explore an asteroid, as well as find and plan for asteroid threats. The RFI is open for 30 days, and responses will be used to help develop public engagement opportunities and a September industry workshop.

Jason Kessler, NASA's program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge, said the project aims to stimulate the development of new tools and techniques.

For instance, it might encourage the development of nanosatellites equipped with expandable pop-out mirrors that could better detect dim asteroids, or of new software that better models an asteroid's shape, Kessler said in an interview with NBC News.

It might also establish school observation networks to bring the power of crowdsourcing to asteroid detection.

"I guarantee you there's a number of great ideas out there that I'd never come up with," Kessler said.

"We're being very deliberate in not saying 'this is the way it's going to be,' except to say this is how it's going to be to promote, engage and solicit ideas from the myriad number of great thinkers."

The B612 Foundation, which has been working for years to raise awareness about the threats posed by asteroids, issued a statement on Tuesday praising NASA´s latest initiative.

"This morning, the White House and NASA announced an Asteroid Grand Challenge, 'focused on finding all asteroid threats to human populations and knowing what to do with them.' This directly mirrors the mission of the non-profit private B612 Foundation and our Sentinel Mission, and we strongly applaud NASA and the Obama administration for their leadership in raising the visibility of this critical issue and for establishing detection of asteroids as a national priority,“ said B612 chief executive Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut.

“The administration has called for a team 'of the best and brightest' working on this together, and we look forward to increased collaboration and partnership."

"There are one million asteroids with the potential to impact Earth with energy large enough to obliterate any major city. We believe that the goal must be to find these one million asteroids – anything less, in our opinion, would not meet the intent of this Grand Challenge."