If you've been keeping up with space news, you know that a major asteroid impact event on Earth isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when. It's happened before and it will happen again. Unlike in the age of the dinosaurs, however, we have scientists at NASA and other organizations to help us prepare and possibly prevent the next major occurrence.
Introducing ARM: Asteroid Redirect Mission.
ARM is a multi-faceted project design to both redirect potentially hazardous asteroids and help us prepare for our first manned mission to Mars. And tomorrow, September 14, 2016, NASA is going to be providing three virtual updates on the mission that the public can view from their computers, with coverage starting at 11 AM EDT.
So far, two ARM missions are planned. The first will be the launch of a robotic spacecraft with a destination of an asteroid millions of miles away in space. This spacecraft will then use a robotic arm to break off a multi-ton boulder from the asteroid, and redirect that boulder to a stable orbit around the moon (called a "distant retrograde orbit"). Once this happens, the second mission will take place: astronauts will launch from Earth on the Orion spacecraft and will land on that asteroid chunk to explore it in person.
How would this help prepare us for a mission to Mars? Well, a lot of the equipment used for these missions are things that can also help us with the mission to Mars. For example, the mechanism that is used to move the big chunk of the asteroid to the moon could ALSO be used to help haul cargo to Mars--things like food and other life support materials, scientific equipment for the astronauts to use on Mars, etc. When the astronauts are on the asteroid collecting samples, they will be testing new collection and storage technology that we could also use on a mission to Mars. We always want to test things out close to home before we spend billions on a mission to Mars, only to find that some of the new tech is faulty under certain conditions.
But if you have more questions about the missions, who better to get answers from than NASA itself, tomorrow at 11 AM EDT? Coverage will start at 11 on NASA TV and on NASA's website, where NASA will discuss an overview of the missions, and what they hope to accomplish. This will be followed by an industry and community update where a team will discuss progress on the mission, call out for members for the mission's investigation team, requests for spacecraft proposals, and more. For details on how to view this, visit NASA's ARM Virtual Industry Day page. Finally, there will be a live Facebook Q&A session on Goddard Space Flight Center's Facebook page, where people can get an overview of the mission, go on a virtual tour of the Goddard Center, and listen to answers to questions submitted on Facebook--you can even submit your own questions!
No, Bruce Willis probably won't be there to save us in the event of a planet-killing asteroid, but science and technology--and the people who wield them--will be our champions!
As always, if you have any questions, ask in the comments! I'll do my best to answer them, and if I can't, chances are I know someone who can!
Melanie R. Meadors is an author and editor of science fiction and fantasy, blogger at The Once and Future Podcast, and a professional author publicist. She studied physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University, where no day was complete without a heated debate over relativity versus quantum mechanics. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.