by Vladimir Isachenkov
The Associated Press
December 30, 2009
Russia's space agency chief says a
spacecraft may be dispatched to knock a large asteroid off course
and reduce the chances of earth impact, even though U.S. scientists
say such a scenario is unlikely.
Anatoly Perminov told Golos Rossii radio on Wednesday that
the space agency would hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to
Apophis. He said his agency might eventually invite NASA, the
European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join
When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004,
astronomers estimated its chances of smashing into Earth in its
first flyby, in 2029, at 1-in-37.
Further studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029,
when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles
(29,450 kilometers) from Earth's surface, but they indicated a small
possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.
NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as
1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the
asteroid's path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.
NASA said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a
1-in-330,000 chance of impact.
Don Yeomans, who heads NASA's
Near-Earth Object Program, said better
calculations of Apophis' path in several years,
certainly remove any possibility of an Earth collision" in 2036.
"While Apophis is almost certainly
not a problem, I am encouraged that the Russian science
community is willing to study the various deflection options
that would be available in the event of a future Earth
threatening encounter by an asteroid," Yeomans said in an email
Without mentioning NASA's conclusions,
Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting
closer and may hit the planet.
"I don't remember exactly, but it
seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032," Perminov said.
"People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred
million dollars and build a system that would allow us to
prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen
and kill hundreds of thousands of people," Perminov said.
Scientists have long theorized about
asteroid deflection strategies.
Some have proposed sending a probe
to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its
trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with
the asteroid and alter its momentum, or hitting it with nuclear
Perminov wouldn't disclose any details of the project, saying they
still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn't
require any nuclear explosions.
Deep Impact Mission and
Hollywood action films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," have featured
space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions.
movies, space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent
"Calculations show that it's
possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time
we have, which would help avoid the collision," Perminov said.
"The threat of collision can be averted."
Boris Shustov, the director of the
Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed
Perminov's statement as a signal that officials had come to
recognize the danger posed by asteroids.
"Apophis is just a symbolic example,
there are many other dangerous objects we know little about," he
said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.