For possibilities in the future that are straight out of science-fiction movies, NASA is working on a spacecraft named HAMMER that may one day save the world.
HAMMER stands for Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response, and its name gives away its mission of saving Earth in case of an asteroid emergency.
Why Did NASA Decide To Start Making HAMMER?
The asteroid Bennu, which was discovered in 1999, is currently zooming around the solar system at 63,000 miles per hour, at a distance of 54 million miles from the Earth. However, on Sept. 21, 2135, Bennu has a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting planet Earth.
The forecasted incident has a very slim chance of happening, and it is still over a century away. In addition, with asteroid Bennu just being the size of a village, it might not end life on Earth as everyone knows it even if it crashes into the planet straight on.
However, considering the well-known fact that an asteroid crash triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs, it is understandable that experts are preparing for the possibility that an asteroid may end the human race. It may be Bennu in 2135, or another asteroid altogether at a different time in the future, but the world will rest easy knowing that there is a plan in case the 1998 movie Armageddon becomes real life.
What Will HAMMER Do To Save The World?
HAMMER is a joint venture between NASA, the National Security Administration and weapons labs from the Energy Department. From the organizations working on the spacecraft, humans already have an idea of how it will save the world in case Bennu or another asteroid is detected to be on a collision course.
If the incoming asteroid is small enough, the 8.8-ton spacecraft will use its impactor to crash into the asteroid and change its course. However, if the incoming asteroid is too big, HAMMER will blast it with nuclear weapons to divert its trajectory, away from the Earth.
"Smart people are taking this seriously and thinking carefully about what might be done," said Richard Binzel, an impact expert from MIT. "These are reasonable ideas - well thought out."
Figuring out the trajectory of asteroids, before and after HAMMER crashes into them or nukes them, remains difficult due to the many factors that affect them. As such, Binzel says that detecting dangerous asteroids should be one of the top priorities of NASA. If there is more time to prepare for an incoming asteroid crash, it will be much easier for HAMMER to save the world.