NASA’s Search for Asteroids to Help Protect Earth

NASA places a high priority on finding Near- Earth Objects (NEOs) and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the agency is working with our partners in the U.S. and around the world to detect, track and characterize NEOs, especially those that might pose a threat to human populations.

NASA has been studying NEOs since the 1970s.  They are asteroids and comets that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighborhood. Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Established in 1998, NASA's NEO Observations Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for the Agency’s efforts at finding, tracking, and characterizing NEOs. The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena Calif., conducts the daily operations of the program.

In 2010, NASA fulfilled a congressional mandate to discover at least 90 percent of 1-kilometer-sized NEOs, and is now working hard to find smaller NEOs.  Current national space policy directs NASA to pursue capabilities, in cooperation with other departments, agencies, and commercial partners, to detect, track, catalog, and characterize NEOs. To do so, NASA’s NEO budget has increased substantially from $4 million to $40 million.

A NEO Impact Working Group, which includes NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is being formed to review disaster response plans for NEO impact scenarios. NASA and FEMA conducted a joint NEO-impact tabletop exercise in 2013.

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