MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the weapon NASA will use to fight Earth-ending asteroids

It has nothing to do with oil-rig workers, but it has a lot to do with America's biggest nuclear weapon; NASA has a plan to deflect asteroids that could end all life on earth. It starts with an enormous, experimental, developing launch vehicle and ends with a massive six-shooter of America's largest nuclear weapons.

The "Cradle," as it is called, is out to target any near-Earth object that might get too close. And the first test could come in 2029.


Behold the quintessential devil in these matters, the asteroid Apophis.

On Friday, Apr. 13, 2029, the 1,100-foot asteroid Apophis is going to pass just 19,000 miles away from the Earth. That may not seem very close, but in terms of space stuff, that's a hair's breadth away, uncomfortably close. Scientists are pretty sure it won't hit Earth, but it will be close enough to knock out some satellites. What the close call does bring into question is this: what if there are other near-Earth objects out there that definitely will hit Earth?

That's where NASA started wargaming with the cosmos. Assuming the asteroid has a mass of a million kilograms and was headed directly for Earth's center mass, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided to figure out what it would take to deflect – not destroy – such a mass.

That's where nukes come in to play, specifically these B83 nuclear weapons.

Anywhere from two to five years before the projected impact, NASA would send a probe to the asteroid's surface to read the effects of a possible impact with the another object, test its possible trajectory, and determine the best method of rerouting the celestial projectile from Earth. When the best course of action was determined, the U.S. would launch a series of missiles aboard one of its spiffy new Ares V rockets. There would be three kinds: kinetic, nuclear and solar.

The solar option would be fired into the asteroid's orbit with a parabolic collector membrane that would focus the sun's energy onto the object, acting as a kind of thruster to disrupt its path or destroy it into smaller, less destructive versions of itself. The kinetic war head would have an inert warhead on it, and would be designed to literally push the object away using force. The nuclear option would send the largest warhead America has, a 1.2 megaton device in a B83 warhead that can produce a mushroom cloud taller than Mount Everest. They would be detonated close to the object but not right on it or into it.

The idea is to turn its surface into an expanding plasma to generate a force to deflect the asteroid.

There's the boom.

The reason NASA can't just outright destroy a near-Earth object was the discussion of a report from NASA and was explored in the early stages of developing this planetary defense.

"The Hollywood scenario solution of shooting several intercontinental ballistic missiles at the incoming rock is fraught with danger. It probably would not be sufficient to prevent impact, raising the additional hazard of radioactive materials from the blast being introduced into the atmosphere," the report reads.

Hence, the plan is to give it a little push instead.