NASA Is Calling All Nerds to Help Save the World

Want to be an asteroid hunter? The space agency wants your help.

National Journal
Alex Brown
March 10, 2014, 9:58 a.m.

NASA needs a hand find­ing as­ter­oids that threaten our plan­et — so it’s turn­ing to crowd­sourcing.

The space agency an­nounced Monday it’s look­ing for data jock­eys to help it track as­ter­oids, in­clud­ing ones that could come close — in space dis­tances — to the Earth. At stake is not only the plan­et’s sur­viv­al, but $35,000 in re­ward money that NASA is put­ting up for As­ter­oid Grand Chal­lenge win­ners.

“The di­no­saurs would have cared if they knew about this prob­lem,” says the NASA video an­noun­cing the con­test. “So let’s be smarter than them.”

So what does NASA want from cit­izen sci­ent­ists? Bet­ter al­gorithms for identi­fy­ing as­ter­oids in the im­ages it picks up with its tele­scopes. The chal­lenge is to “in­crease the de­tec­tion sens­it­iv­ity, min­im­ize the num­ber of false pos­it­ives, ig­nore im­per­fec­tions in the data, and run ef­fect­ively on all com­puter sys­tems.”

Not only does NASA want help spot­ting as­ter­oids; it’s also look­ing for ideas on what to do if it spots a dan­ger­ous space rock hurt­ling to­ward Earth. The end goal: “Find all as­ter­oid threats to hu­man pop­u­la­tions and know what to do about them.”

NASA isn’t alone in the pro­ject. Plan­et­ary Re­sources, a com­pany that plans to mine metals from nearby as­ter­oids, is also back­ing the chal­lenge. “We are ex­cited to part­ner with NASA in this con­test to help in­crease the quant­ity and know­ledge about as­ter­oids that are po­ten­tial threats, hu­man des­tin­a­tions, or re­source rich,” said Chris Lewicki, the com­pany’s pres­id­ent.

The chal­lenge could also be a boon to NASA’s goal of re­dir­ect­ing and land­ing as­tro­nauts on an as­ter­oid next dec­ade.

What We're Following See More »
Bill Clinton Gets Personal in Convention Speech
5 hours ago

“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” started Bill Clinton. In his speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton brought a personal touch, telling parallel stories of his relationship with Hillary Clinton and the work she has done throughout her career. He lauded the Democratic nominee for her career of work, touching on her earliest days of advocacy for children and those with disabilities while in law school, her role as Secretary of State, and her work in raising their daughter, Chelsea. Providing a number of anecdotes throughout the speech, Clinton built to a crescendo, imploring the audience to support his wife for president. "You should elect her, she'll never quit when the going gets tough," he said. "Your children and grandchildren will be grateful."

Mothers Of The Movement Endorse Hillary Clinton
7 hours ago

A coalition of mothers whose children lost their lives in high profile cases across the country, known as the Mothers Of The Movement, were greeted with deafening chants of "Black Lives Matter" before telling their stories. The mothers of Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin spoke for the group, soliciting both tears and applause from the crowd. "Hillary Clinton has the compassion and understanding to comfort a grieving mother," said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. "And that's why, in the memory of our children, we are imploring you — all of you — to vote this election day."

Clinton Officially Democratic Nominee for President
9 hours ago

With the South Dakota delegation announcing its delegate count, Hillary Rodham Clinton is officially the Democratic nominee for president, surpassing the 2383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Clinton is expected to speak at the convention on Thursday night and officially accept the nomination.

How Many People Protested in Philly Yesterday?
13 hours ago

About 5,500, according to official estimates. "The Monday figures marked a large increase from the protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where even the largest protests only drew a couple of hundred demonstrators. But it’s a far cry from the 35,000 to 50,000 that Philadelphia city officials initially expected."

NY Times’ Upshot Gives Clinton 68% Chance to Win
13 hours ago

Only a day after FiveThirtyEight's Now Cast gave Donald Trump a 57% chance of winning, the New York Times' Upshot fires back with its own analysis that shows Hillary Clinton with a 68% chance to be the next president. Its model "calculates win probabilities for each state," which incorporate recent polls plus "a state's past election results and national polling." Notably, all of the battleground states that "vote like the country as a whole" either lean toward Clinton or are toss-ups. None lean toward Trump.