Idea for Space Mission is Like "Angry Birds" for Asteroids

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

(CBS) - After a millennium of unchecked asteroids bombarding Earth, one proposed space mission is ready to turn the tables. A plan -- equal parts "Angry Birds" and nineties disaster movie "Armageddon" -- calls for a man-made satellite to collide with potentially dangerous asteroids to throw them off course and save our planet.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has put out a call for experimental ideas for its Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission (AIDA). An ESA press release breathlessly describes the scene:

A space rock several hundred meters across is heading towards our planet and the last-ditch attempt to avert a disaster -- an untested mission to deflect it -- fails. This fictional scene of films and novels could well be a reality one day. But what can space agencies do to ensure it works?

The answer seems to be a transatlantic partnership between space authorities in Europe and the U.S. The most promising proposal so far is from Johns Hopkins University. The school's Applied Physics Laboratory has come up with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

The plan is to launch the DART at a pair of asteroids predicted to fly past Earth in 2022. Called Didymos, this binary asteroid, will safely pass our planet at a distance of 6.5 million miles. ESA officials consider it a perfect opportunity to test mankind's ability to deflect the course of potentially hazardous asteroids.

As the DART flies on a collision course with Didymos, ESA's Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) spacecraft will observe the asteroid before and after the crash to measure DART's impact.

"The advantage is that the spacecraft are simple and independent," Andy Cheng of Johns Hopkins, AIDA project leader for the U.S. side, said in a press release. "They can both complete their primary investigation without the other one."

But the proposed space mission is far from finalized. AIDA scientists are asking for suggestions on how to fine-tune the mission. If you're a budding astrophysicist -- or just a pro at "Angry Birds" -- offer your best experimental ideas to the ESA, who will open their Call of Experiment Ideas on February 1st.

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