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Ex NASA astronauts hope to save the world from asteroid strikes

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, April 14, 2014, 5:32 PM -

Former NASA astronaut Ed Lu thinks that the biggest threat to mankind is asteroids -- and that has prompted him, in partnership with Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, to set up the B612 Foundation.

Together they hope to build a sort of "defense perimeter" around the planet, beginning with the construction of a high-tech telescope called Sentinel.

It all started in 2012 when Lu gave a tech talk at the Google offices. He argued that the planet isn't sufficiently protected against asteroids, because we haven't developed technology that can properly search for them.

Shortly after that Lu set out to do it on his own.

"I spent six months aboard the International Space Station," he told Wired.com.


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"From there, you notice a stark difference between the moon and the Earth: The moon is covered in craters. But Earth has craters too -- you just can’t see them, because they’re underneath the oceans. So anybody who knows anything about space and probability knows that this is something you have to solve. Nothing else matters at all if you’re going to get wiped out. Since 2000, there have been eight impacts roughly the size of Hiroshima or larger."

Lu says that Sentinel is a step in the right direction.

Asteroids are dark and don't reflect a lot of light, but the specially-designed telescope would be able to scan the skies for signs of infrared light.

It would then analyse multiple images to measure the velocities of visible space rocks, which scientists could then use to calculate trajectory and point of impact.

"The Sentinel mission will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of the inner solar system showing the positions and orbital tracks of the hundreds of thousands of Near Earth Asteroids as they orbit the Sun," Lu writes on his website.

"Not only is this map needed to protect the future of planet Earth, but mapping the inner solar system is the first step to exploring our own solar system. Just as the U.S. geological surveys and the mapping expedition of Lewis and Clark were instrumental in the development of the American frontier, the Sentinel Map will be instrumental as humanity opens up the new frontier that is the inner solar system. Our solar system currently is an uncharted wilderness."

Sentinel will, obviously, be an expensive endeavour.

Lu and Schweickart are being backed by corporate donors at Google and the news-sharing site reddit -- but they're accepting donations from all members of the public.

Visit the B612 Foundation to learn more.

Thumbnail image courtesy: NASA

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