Mapping Killer Asteroids

  • Prosperity
  • 2012

The B612 Foundation was founded by an ex-NASA astronaut to study ways of deflecting or destroying asteroids with the potential to be dangerous if they strike Earth. Eventually, the nonprofit reached the conclusion that it was coming at the problem from the wrong end—because no one knows the location of every space rock big enough to do damage, and neither NASA nor any other government agency had a plan to map all of the asteroids that could endanger humans. So in 2012 the foundation shifted its mission: It would partner with space-imaging leader Ball Aerospace to design and launch its own space-based infrared telescope capable of scanning the solar system and identifying all objects whose size and orbit made them threats. Once that was done, deflection would be realistic.

The private spacecraft planned to do the job is priced at $450 million (about half what the government was going to spend in a failed project). Funding is being sought from hundreds of private donors, including leaders of major Silicon Valley companies, philanthropies like the William Bowes Foundation and, plus corporate matching funds from firms like Microsoft and Google. The project received a fresh boost in 2013 when a previously unknown meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,200 people.