Recent blockbuster movies featured huge asteroids dooming the Earth, but a new lab at Iowa State University will work out real-life ways to save the planet from a giant rock. The movie "Armageddon" was science fiction, but the science facts are — enormous asteroids are out there and they can seriously jeopardize planets.
I.S.U. aerospace engineering professor Bong Wie is director of the newly-named Asteroid Deflection Research Center. He says: "The probability is very low, but we should be ready." Wie says he’ll gather the world’s top brains to address ways to keep the planet from being wiped out.
"Depending on the target asteroid, we will be able to propose a technically feasible concept," Wie says, though he didn’t want to discuss particulars. The research has been underway for decades, with all sorts of solutions for saving the Earth.
"Many scientists around the world, they already initiate. I feel there is no consensus on how to reliably, economically achieve our mission goal of deflecting the threatening object from the sky," Wie says. The new research center will host its first international symposium in Ames this fall. Scientists and engineers from NASA, the European Space Agency, and others, will be invited to Iowa State to help create a roadmap for developing asteroid deflection technologies.
Wie says there’s no immediate threat from a menacing asteroid, but it’s vital to consider options. He laughs when the Hollywood options are mentioned, like the "Armageddon" plot of sending expert oil drillers up in a space shuttle to nuke the approaching asteroid. "We are not going to deal with science fictional schemes," Wie says. "We do have technically feasible, technically viable options for actually achieving our mission goal."
Part of that goal involves using the technologies at I.S.U. to develop precision orbital guidance and navigation which could be used to deflect threatening objects in space. Wie’s research expertise includes space vehicle dynamics, control of large space structures, and solar sail flight control system development. One of the so-called extinction-class asteroids, at least six miles in diameter, is thought to have caused a 106-mile wide crater in Mexico. It struck the Yucatan Peninsula 65-million years ago and many scientists believe it led to the extinction of dinosaurs.