If Michael Bay’s film “Armageddon” will be translated into reality, it sure is a blockbuster event. For a couple of years, humankind has always been threatened with flying asteroids that could wipe out the entirety of Earth. So to measure how much power it would take to crash asteroids before it reach the planet, NASA plans on smashing a spacecraft in a series of experiment called AIDA.
AIDA or Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment is a two-part spatial experiment that is expected to take place in 2022. First, the European Space Agency will send an orbiter around an asteroid to collect necessary data. After which, NASA will then launch an unmanned aircraft direct to the asteroid, smash it, and determine the force required to destroy it.
But unlike the movie, Near-Earth Objects Program executive Lindley Johnson said oil rigging is out of the equation. Instead, NASA will take the more scientific method of either speeding up or slowing down the orbital velocity of the asteroid to match that of the spacecraft’s capability.
Johnson added that asteroids passing through the Solar System have an orbital velocity similar to that of the Earth. Therefore, if NASA is able to reduce its normal speed of 12 miles per second even just an inch, there is a high probability that it will miss its trajectory towards Earth.
To determine the velocity of an asteroid, scientists have to identify the mass of flying object. Prior to that, NASA also needs to calculate its density by looking at its composition. Johnson explained the so-called kinetic impactor or the smashing of the aircraft would subsequently provide them the data on how to alter the asteroid’s velocity.
The U.S. space agency said the use of nuclear weapons to detonate the asteroid is not necessarily a “preposterous” idea, but Johnson clarified it won’t be depicted like the movies. He said instead of directing the missiles onto the asteroid’s surface, the detonation will take place at a distance. The impact shall then cause the object to heat up and blow in itself.
Despite the technological options NASA can perform, the bigger questions are, will the asteroid will just swallow the force of the spacecraft (or missile) or will it break into pieces and head straight to Earth.
Gravity will also play a crucial role – another technique which NASA considers under the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which is expected to come to life in the next decade.