After an asteroid exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia and caused extensive damage and injuries, scientists (and the U.N.) have scrambled to put systems in place that could identify such objects in the future. Now, NASA and Planetary Resources (an asteroid mining startup) have come together for a crowdsourced campaign to make that happen.
As the first part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, announced this past summer, NASA is turning to the public to not only identify asteroids, but also to study them and find those that might pose a threat to Earth. NASA is also interested in redirecting asteroids near the Moon, where they can later be explored by astronauts.
Planetary Resources is the same group responsible for successfully funding a publically-accessible space telescope on Kickstarter. The company's primary interest, however, is with asteroids. Their eventual goal is to robotically mine asteroids and then sell their resources in orbit. For this particular project, though, the company entered into a "Space Act Agreement" with NASA. NASA will provide all its sky survey data, while Planetary Resources will organize and manage the crowdsourced contests that will have participants using algorithms to hunt for asteroids.
Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources said:
"Asteroids hold the resources necessary to enable a sustainable, even indefinite presence in space — for science, commerce and continued prosperity here on Earth. By harnessing the public’s interest in space and asteroid detection, we can more quickly identify the potential threats, as well as the opportunities."
The first contest will begin in 2014, using software developed by Zooniverse, the company behind the Galaxy Zoo project that used the public to identify over 300,000 galaxies close to Earth. There’s no word yet on what prizes are available to winners of the contests, although saving planet Earth from asteroids should be enough reward. Now that Earth is at a higher risk for asteroid impact, these contests cannot begin to soon.