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International Asteroid Protection Research Project Launched

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-As happens several times a year, an
asteroid today passed in between the orbits of the Earth and
moon. BX34, discovered a few days before, was a small, bus-sized
asteroid, merely 37 feet long, and it would have burned up, had
it entered our atmosphere, NASA’s Asteroid Watch scientists
report, but its passage at a distance more than five times closer
than the moon is a good reminder of the urgency of getting what
Russian leaders have dubbed the `Strategic Defense of Earth’ off
the ground.

In mid-January, an international "Near-Earth Object (NEO)
Impact Threat Mitigation
" project did get underway in Europe.
Called NEO Shield, the three-and-a-half-year, EU-funded program
is to coordinate "pen and laboratory" experiments investigating
"measures that can be employed to prevent near-Earth objects such
as asteroids and comets from colliding with Earth.... [and study]
the properties of near-Earth objects," so as to develop a
strategy to face an impending collision.

Thirteen space and industrial research agencies from
Germany, Spain, France, Ireland, the U.K., Russia, and the United
States are participating, with the German Aerospace Center
(DLR)’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin serving as
project coordinator.

Project leader Alan Harris from the DLR told Deutsche Welle:
"We want to prove that the human race is in a position, is
technically capable, of deflecting a dangerous asteroid.... We’re
going to collate all the scientific information with a view to
mitigation... What do you need to know about an asteroid in order
to be able to change its course — to deflect it from a
catastrophic course with the Earth?
"

Former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, past chairman of the
U.S.-based B612 Foundation founded by U.S. scientists and
astronauts to prepare Earth defense from asteroids — their motto
is: "Unlike the dinosaurs, we have the means to prevent
catastrophic impacts" — told Space.com that NEOShield is welcome
news, because up until now projects have been limited to one
person or one institution, and it is key that this is being done
by an international group of participants. Given that there are
serious and extremely challenging geopolitical implications to
any NEO deflection, this element is very valuable, he emphasized.