“You realize that we have a responsibility to continue safe operations on board Spaceship Earth. And that means protecting humanity.” ~ Ed Lu, former NASA astronaut, STS-84, STS-106, Soyuz TMA-2, ISS Expedition 7
In October 2001, a group of like-minded scientists informally convened at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. And with it perhaps the biggest environmental project was first imagined.
Organized by Piet Hut and Ed Lu, a group of 20 experts—in fields ranging from asteroid studies to propulsion to power technologies—came together around our common concern about Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and how a large impact on Earth could destroy human civilization.
The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program…
An asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and most of life on Earth during the Cretaceous period. But they had no way of preventing their demise. Humans do, and we realized our group could be instrumental in strategizing how to protect our planet and humanity from future asteroid collisions. Despite the seriousness of the subject, that initial meeting ended on an upbeat note, as we realized that we have the technology and ability to plan and execute a demonstration asteroid deflection mission. We proposed that a good trial project would be to select a representative NEA (one not headed toward Earth) and change its orbit slightly as a demonstration of our capability.
“We feel a certain urgency to get on with it so that we can be confident that we’re not going to have a cosmic disaster here for no good, justifiable reason, just because we didn’t get with it. So let’s get with it. That’s the name of the game.” ~ Rusty Schweickart, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 9
We also determined that an organization would be invaluable to carry out this program. Clark Chapman, Piet Hut, Ed Lu, and Rusty Schweickart took up the challenge and founded the B612 Foundation in 2002.
We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but…
In our first ten years as a volunteer organization, our focus was on asteroid deflection research and advocacy. The team developed several deflection concepts, ones that are accepted today as standard techniques to prevent an impact. Over the years, the B612 Foundation was instrumental in advancing the scientific thinking on asteroid deflection. We and others realized that deflecting an asteroid requires surprisingly little change in an asteroid’s velocity – in most cases just a fraction of a centimeter per second change in order to prevent an impact with Earth. However this slight deflection must be carried out decades before the impending impact.
But we also realized that without a dedicated effort to comprehensively search for and track Near Earth Asteroids, the next destructive impact on Earth would happen with little or no warning. Our technology to deflect asteroids would be useless against an asteroid we hadn’t yet discovered.
… preventing an impact requires adequate early warning. Unless we act, humanity is unlikely to have such an adequate warning. Protecting the Earth is our #1 priority.
So in late 2011, the B612 Foundation decided to change our focus. Now that we and others had established that asteroid deflection was possible (even if not yet demonstrated), we needed to focus our efforts on giving humanity sufficient warning time so that we can use our space technology to prevent the next asteroid impact. We significantly scaled up operations and initiated the Sentinel Mission to find Near Earth Asteroids before they find us. In partnership with Ball Aerospace, the B612 Foundation will build, launch, and operate an infrared space telescope to find and track the hundreds of thousands of threatening asteroids that cannot be tracked with current telescopes.
Making the first step…
The Sentinel mission will in effect create the first comprehensive dynamic map of the inner solar system showing the positions and orbital tracks of the hundreds of thousands of Near Earth Asteroids as they orbit the Sun. Not only do we need this map to protect our future on this planet, but mapping the inner solar system is the first step to exploring our own solar system. Just as the U.S. geological surveys and the mapping expedition of Lewis and Clark were instrumental in the development of the American frontier, the Sentinel Map will be instrumental as humanity opens up the new frontier that is the inner solar system. Our solar system currently is an uncharted wilderness. We invite you to join us in mapping this great new frontier, and to help literally save the world!
~ Dr. Ed Lu
Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer
Do you want to protect humanity? Join the crew today.
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