Russia Plans to Modify Cold War Missiles to Destroy Asteroids

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Russia plans to modify some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy asteroids before they hit Earth, according to a top Russian rocket researcher.

Sabit Saitgarayev of Russia’s Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau revealed the effort during an interview last week with the government-owned TASS news agency.

The United States is also working on ways to prevent asteroids from hitting Earth, but is taking a very different approach. Instead of blowing up the space rocks, NASA plans to shove them away from the planet.

It is the latest frontier in efforts by both countries to tackle a threat to the planet that dates at least from the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Russian missiles would be used to target smaller asteroids of 20 meters to 50 meters in diameter.

These smaller asteroids can cause significant damage and can sometimes be detected only by observatories a few hours in advance of their reaching Earth.

Sometimes, they aren’t detected at all. In 2013, a 20-meter-wide meteor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia, with the estimated force of 300,000 tons of TNT or more, shattering glass in buildings and leaving more than 1,000 people injured.

None of Earth’s space agencies saw it coming.

“Unfortunately, we only know about roughly 1% of those asteroids that get down to the 30-meter size, so there’s a tremendous amount out there that we have yet to discover,” noted Jason Kessler, the director of NASA’s effort to find all asteroid threats to human populations.

Larger asteroids can cause much more damage but can be detected early by space observatories using advanced telescopes and infrared technology.

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SOURCE: CNN, Ryan Browne