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NASA is finally moving forward with a space telescope that could spot asteroids heading dangerously close to Earth.

The Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission — NEO Surveyor, for short — has passed a key review, and NASA announced Friday that it’s moving it to the next stage of development. Now engineers can start building new parts for the telescope, thereby keeping the mission on track for a 2026 launch.

“I’m over the moon,” Amy Mainzer, who leads the project, told Insider. “We are excited to do our part to help cross the asteroid-impact issue off the world’s list of worries.”

To protect the planet from an incoming asteroid, experts estimate they’d need five to 10 years’ warning that a space rock was headed our way. Right now, an asteroid could easily approach Earth without anyone seeing it, since telescopes on the ground can only do limited surveillance.

“What you want to do is find them early, find them as early as possible — as in years, or even decades, before they pose a threat,” Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, previously told Insider. “The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program, and look what happened to them. We have a space program. And given enough time, we can do something about this threat.”

NEO Surveyor would help NASA catalogue nearby asteroids and chart their paths through the solar system, so that someday — if necessary — humanity may have a shot at destroying or deflecting any space rocks on a collision path with Earth.

For years, work on this kind of infrared telescope had been caught in “NASA mission limbo hell,” MIT astronomer Richard Binzel previously told Insider. Now the project is finally moving forward.

NASA needs a space telescope to defend Earth from …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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