Asteroid headed close to Earth, but what if we could deflect it?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- An asteroid discovered just a week ago is coming as close to the earth as our moon, and it's happening next week.

Timely perhaps for a talk at the University of Houston Wednesday featuring Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart. For 14 years he's been pushing for greater awareness of the threat of asteroids directly hitting the Earth.

He says technology already exists to divert or deflect a potentially cataclysmic collision. But not enough people are paying attention.

"We can literally prevent it using technology that's already available," said the 79-year-old Schweickart. "It's a matter of assuming the responsibility and security of the populous is the responsibility of government. We try very, very hard to educate but not scare people. I always say, don't lose any sleep over this, just take the responsibility."

Schweickart was invited to speak in Houston by the MIT Enterprise Forum, a group of scientists and engineers who, along with Schwieckart, understand we could do something about the threat with the right funding.

"We have the technology today to do something about it," said the forum's chairman David Hansen. "We're not utilizing the best technology and so if something did happen before we could take action, it would be a very sad day."

That technology includes a gravity tractor -- a space ship which would nudge an asteroid, speeding it up or slowing it down on its collision course with Earth, deflecting it from a hit.

"This is actually something that we can do in our time in history which will make a difference forever," Schweickart said, adding that we already know about 97 percent of the large asteroids in the sun's orbit, but we don't know about 99 percent of the medium and small ones -- where they are or where they're headed.
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