Former astronaut wants to save the world from asteroids

Former astronaut wants to save the world from asteroids

SEATTLE -- When Apollo 8 astronaut and Orcas Island resident William Anders was taking pictures of the lunar surface on Christmas Eve in 1968, he snapped a picture that wasn't on NASA's agenda.

As the capsule turned, Anders saw something out his window no human had ever seen before -- the earth rising over the lunar surface, a blue and white planet rising up over the lunar skyline.  It was Earth. Life Magazine called it one of the most important photos of the 20th century.

"It was the size of your first if you extended your arm out in front of you," Anders said. "It gave me the perspective that Earth is a fragile".

Anders brought that perspective to Seattle's Museum of Flight Tuesday as he participated in a presentation by two other fellow astronauts promoting another Earth Day theme -- saving the planet, literally.

Former NASA astronauts Dr. Ed Lu and Tom Jones joined Anders to discuss recent declassified findings by the B612 Foundation, which Lu is the founder of. Lu says between 2000 and 2013, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates a network of sensors that monitors Earth  listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations, detected 26 explosion that were asteroids hitting Earth's atmosphere. The energy released ranged from 1 to 500 kilotons.

To put that in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 was 15 kiloton. The B612 Foundation says the asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, but it does show the potential if any of the asteroids would hit a populated area.

"We don't know when or where the next asteroid impact is going to be. If we did with enough notice we could change the future by not allowing it to happen," said Lu, who for the last two years and been focused on building Sentinal, an infra-red telescope that would orbit the sun near Venus and search for heat signature of asteroids.

Lu says it's reach would go way beyond current technology see black asteroids in the blackness of space, something a traditional earth based telescope can not do.

"The B612 Foundation is trying to protect the earth by finding and tracking asteroids years before they hit the earth so that we can deflect them," he said. 

He says deflecting an asteroid just a few degree away for an impact with Earth can be done with a small rocket.

The B612 Sentinel Mission would be the world's first privately funded deep space mission that will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system, identifying the current and future locations and trajectories of Earth crossing asteroids.

The non-profit says it need $250 million dollars to engineer, build and launch the telescope and keep it operational. Sentinel will detect and track more than 200,000 asteroids in just the first year of operation, after a planned launch in 2018.