Practicing to Save the World

Dr. Nahum Melamed, one of the creators of the NEO Deflection App. (Photo: Elisa Haber)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to save the world, to be a superhero? Now there is a computer application that allows you to have this experience with the click of a mouse.

This year NASA/JPL released its NEO Deflection App, developed in collaboration with The Aerospace Corporation. The app provides a simulation of an asteroid headed for Earth and allows users to manipulate variables and design a mission in order to deflect the near Earth object (NEO) away from Earth impact. Some of these variables include the launch vehicle type and mass of the spacecraft used for interception, liftoff and intercept times, and the asteroid’s size and density.

Asteroid impact simulation from the NASA/JPL NEO Deflection App.

Asteroid impact simulation from the NASA/JPL NEO Deflection App.

The application is intended for use by non-specialists, to raise awareness in the general public. It also can be used by experts for training, planning, and to support planetary defense decisions. For instance, this application was used at the 2015 Planetary Defense Conference in April, a conference for scientists concerned with how to prevent asteroids, meteoroids, and other objects from colliding with Earth.

According to Dr. Nahum Melamed, one of the creators of the app, potential users include Aerospace technical and non-technical staff, and Aerospace customers such as SMC and NASA, college students and professors, and high school students and teachers.

Since this interactive tool is available worldwide on JPL’s website, the general public can get hands-on with asteroid deflection at home and derive intuitive insights into deflection challenges without being experts in the field.

The app is used in classes held by the Aerospace Institute for training prospective planetary defense team experts. It is also used at K-12 STEM events to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Melamed predicts that “expanded outreach might be attained if a game version is developed in the future for trying asteroid deflection on the go, adding fun to realism.”

—Davina Rose Myers