When it comes to planning for a potential asteroid strike on planet Earth, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency don’t want to miss a thing.
Alongside international partners like the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness-NEO Segment and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office will participate in a “tabletop exercise” that will simulate a scenario for how to respond to an asteroid on an impact trajectory with the Earth (it’s unclear whether Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck or Liv Tyler will participate).
NASA and its partners have actually been on the lookout for potentially calamitous near-Earth objects (which are asteroids, comets or unidentified objects that come within 30 million miles of Earth) for more than 20 years.
The tabletop exercise is a simulation used in disaster management planning to help inform organizations that would be relevant to mobilization and response of important aspects of a possible disaster and identify ways to respond.
Participants in the “Armageddon” exercise (not its official name), will use a scenario developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).
“These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, in a statement. “This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments.”
Simulations like this are actually required by the government thanks to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan.
The scenario these organizations are going to wrestle with involves the fictional identification of NEO that was identified on March 26, and that astronomers believe may be potentially hazardous to Earth. The scientists speculate that the asteroid could pose a 1 in 100 chance of hitting the Earth in 2027 (the 1 in 100 chance is actually the real threshold for initiating plans by the global community to respond to an asteroid strike).
From there, participants in the simulation will discuss potential preparations for reconnaissance and deflection missions — as well as planning to mitigate the potential impact from a strike.
“NASA and FEMA will continue to conduct periodic exercises with a continually widening community of U.S. government agencies and international partners,” said Johnson, in a statement. “They are a great way for us to learn how to work together and meet each other’s needs and the objectives laid out in the White House National NEO Preparedness Action Plan.”
This isn’t the first time NASA has joined a NEO impact exercise. So far, NASA has completed six impact exercises: three international exercises (in 2013, 2015, and 2017) and another three with FEMA (those included representatives from the Department of Defense and the State Department, as well).
“What emergency managers want to know is when, where and how an asteroid would impact, and the type and extent of damage that could occur,” said Leviticus Lewis of the Response Operations Division for FEMA.
NASA did not say whether it has put any contingency plans in place for an “Independence Day” scenario.