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We already have the technological know-how to prevent dangerous space rocks from barreling into our planet, provided we detect them in time. But this vital job would require a great deal of international cooperation, experts say, and history has shown that working together is not our species' strong suit.
"Somebody's got to make the decision to actually mount the deflection, and do it," said former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to predicting and preventing catastrophic asteroid impacts on Earth. "That is not technical, but it's the toughest problem of all," Schweickart said here at the California Institute of Technology on Sept. 28, during a panel discussion called "Moving an Asteroid."
Humanity has the technical skills to move asteroids in several different ways, panelists said. We can hurl a large body into them, for example, changing their orbit with one dramatic impact. NASA did just that in 2005, sending a small probe careening into the comet Tempel 1 to determine the icy wanderer's composition. The goal in that case was science rather than planetary defense, but the key is that humanity knows how to do it with today's technology.