NASA Holds Drills to Prepare for Possible Asteroid Impact

The impact is imminent. In a few hours, minutes perhaps, an asteroid will crash into Earth. It is with these few words that the scenarios regularly considered by NASA begin. On May 13, international actors from the political, diplomatic and military worlds met to put themselves in the shoes of a crisis unit. The idea: to consider all the possibilities of action and all the possible damages in the event of an asteroid falling on Earth. A preliminary report was published to present the lessons learned from this exercise.

Over the past 11 years, five such exercises have already taken place. Each of them imagines a different scenario. The idea is then to determine the priority of the actions to be carried out before the impact and just after it has occurred, in order to save as many people as possible. The scenario developed in May proposed analyzing an asteroid several hundred meters wide with a 72% probability of crashing into our planet in 14 years.

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Setting priorities together

In this imaginary scenario, the experts’ predictions gave a projected path for the asteroid. It went from northern Mexico in the Pacific to North Africa via Dallas, Washington DC, Portugal and Spain. According to NASA’s calculations, this asteroid would have a 45% chance of not harming anyone, a 0.04% chance of affecting more than 10 million people and therefore a high probability of having an effect on the lives of 1,000 to 100,000 people.

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In this case, those present tried to determine what actions to take quickly and in the interest of the greatest number. The conclusions to be drawn from this exercise are based on the fear of doing something radical when the impact itself, its exact location and the effects it would have on populations are surrounded by uncertainty.

China and Russia: the two big absentees

One of the major problems with this exercise is that China and Russia did not participate. Both countries would have been significantly affected if the imaginary asteroid had hit the Pacific. This could have created a tsunami, endangering the coasts of both countries.

Participants also expressed concern about the lack of resources to prepare equally for the impact everywhere on the globe. However, this type of exercise allows us to pinpoint fears and technological and institutional shortcomings so as not to be up against the wall if the Earth were one day to find itself in the path of an asteroid. The final results of the exercise will be published on August 5.

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