End Of The World: Why Is NASA Running Asteroid Tests Drills?

Nobody panic.

NASA
Photo by Yuri_B via Pixabay

Bloggers enjoyed some fun this month as NASA posted a job opening for Planetary Protection Officer. The job entails ensuring “organic-constituent and biological contamination”—a.k.a. alien life—didn’t make its way back to Earth.


Now a little digging yielded more information about the gig—ensuring Earthlings don’t contaminate other planets in our space exploration is also paramount—bloggers couldn’t help themselves. Heck, we wrote a story about the government wanting to construct a Space Army, so we get the playful nature.

But perhaps a more interesting space-related story developed this week. This October, NASA will conduct a drill to test its planetary defense systems in the case an asteroid might hit Earth. Previously NASA has run similar drills with simulated asteroids. But asteroid 2012 TC4 is expected pass closely by Earth October 12 and allow NASA to test its defense systems for real.


To be clear TC4 is a small asteroid, estimated to be between 30 and 100 feet (10 and 30 meters) in size. Though exact distance cannot be predicted, scientists believe it will reach no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth’s surface. While it will become visible to scientists, it will remain at a relatively safe distance from Earth.

“The question is: How prepared are we for the next cosmic threat?” Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona and NASA consultant told USA TODAY. “So we wanted to test how ready we are for a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid.”


According to NASA, there will be no known asteroid threat for the next 100 years. So don’t expect Bruce Willis and his miner crew to save the day and plant a nuke anytime soon. October’s drill instead is a test in being prepared.

As program scientist and NASA Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign Michael Kelley said, “Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterize and learn as much as possible about it.


“This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”

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