It sounds like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster, but Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to knock an asteroid off its path and stop a collision with Earth.
The head of the country’s space agency, Anatoly Perminov, said a mission was being discussed, and other agencies would be invited to join the project.
Nasa says there is no chance of the 270m (885ft) asteroid Apophis smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029, and only a 1-in-250,000 chance of a collision in 2036.
But Mr Perminov insists the asteroid is a potential menace. He was vague about the evidence of a possible hit but said he had heard from scientists that the asteroid is getting closer.
‘I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,’ he 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 theorised 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 using nuclear weapons to hit it.
Mr 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.
Hollywood action films Deep Impact and Armageddon, have featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent collisions.
‘Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges,’ Mr 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 Mr Perminov’s statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.