A planned NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) joint mission is poised to test whether it is possible to knock an asteroid from one orbit into another.
The mission, which has not yet fully funded, is part of the space agencies’ focus on “planetary defence”: the protection of Earth from collision with dangerous asteroids.
But instead of trying to blow up such a threat, as in the 1998 science fiction movie Armageddon, the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission intends to prove that an asteroid can be shifted by hitting it with a fast-moving spacecraft launched from Earth.
“We save Bruce Willis’s life,” quips Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, in Nice, France, in a reference to the movie. “He doesn’t have to sacrifice himself.”