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Tue, Feb 20, 2007

Astronauts Ask United Nations To Lead Plan To Destroy Threatening Asteroids

Group To Submit Formal Plan On Handling Crisis By 2009

Someone call Bruce Willis... and we hear Ben Affleck likely has some free time. As it turns out, Earth as we know it may be doomed by a large asteroid as soon as 2036.

Fortunately, a group of scientists, astronauts, and engineers have called upon the United Nations to rally an "Armageddon"-style space mission to deal with the problem.

CNN reports the group is concerned not only with an asteroid named Apophis -- which has a 1 in 45,000 chance of slamming into Earth on April 13, 2036 -- but also with the large number of other threatening space rocks expected to be revealed as NASA upgrades its tracking of near-Earth asteroids.

"It's not just Apophis we're looking at. Every country is at risk. We need a set of general principles to deal with this issue," said Apollo 9 astronaut Randy Schweickart to the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Francisco, CA.

Schweickart is part of The Association of Space Explorers, a group of former astronauts and cosmonauts who intend to host a series of workshops this year to establish a plan to deal with the problem. He plans to present an update before the end of the month to the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, with the intent of making a formal proposal in 2009.

Association member Ed Lu, a former astronaut who spent time on the International Space Station, said the approach favored by scientists would call for a spacecraft be dispatched to use gravity to alter an asteroid's course away from Earth.

Such a "gravity tractor" would hold position near the asteroid, and gradually deflect its course by "pulling" on the body.

FMI: www.aaas.org, www.space-explorers.org

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