Asteroids: A Solvable Existential Risk

Luxembourg is a small country with very big ideas, and is really investing in an emerging new space economy (Photo © Asteroid Foundation)

Asteroids present both risks and opportunities to humankind. Danica Remy, co-founder of Asteroid Day, and board director and secretary for the Asteroid Foundation, a Luxembourg-based not-for-profit, explains.

What is the Asteroid Foundation’s mission?

The Asteroid Foundation‘s mission is to promote worldwide awareness about the opportunities and challenges surrounding asteroids and the emerging space economy, particularly the emerging space economy.

You helped set up the foundation in Luxembourg after working with B612, a platform begun by astronauts advocating for better asteroid preparedness. How likely is it that we could deflect an asteroid heading for earth?

What I love about the challenge is that it’s a completely solvable existential risk, which we can’t say about a super volcano or hurricane, tsunami or earthquake. Scientists and engineers all agree that if we had enough notice, we could deflect an asteroid. And so it’s not very often that you have an opportunity to work on an existential risk that actually has a solution that, in fact, might be able to be solved within one or two decades with the right technology and the right information.

Who is responding to this challenge at the moment?

B612 has been advocating […] that NASA and the world in general, should build technology and understand whether or not that technology will work should an asteroid be coming towards our home planet. And so, for us, the [NASA] Double Asteroid Redirect Test Mission is a fabulous example of using technology to advance humanity as well as safety and well-being in the future. NASA is taking a leadership role coordinating around the world with asteroid scientists, planetary defence scientists, and their telescopes. The primary telescopes today that deliver us asteroid data are Pan-STARRS and Catalina Sky Survey, which have been primarily funded out of the planetary defense coordination offices budget. Those telescopes find about 3,000 new asteroids every year that come near our Earth.

“Our job is to put a spotlight on all the amazing scientists, engineers, space leaders and explorers who are going to go out into space.”

Danica Remy

Many of these telescopes and initiatives are in the US. Why establish the Foundation in Luxembourg?

Luxembourg is a small country with very big ideas, and is really investing in an emerging new space economy. It is building a space agency unlike any other, as near as I can tell. And so by supporting the development of the ecosystem of new space companies uniquely positions Luxembourg as an innovator and a leader from a global space perspective. So, it really made it for a natural fit for us.

Your main event Asteroid Day, which takes place around 30 June, had to shift a lot of activities online thanks to the pandemic. What is the plan for 2022?

Our job is to put a spotlight on all the amazing scientists, engineers, space leaders and explorers who are going to go out into space. Invites have been going out to astronauts and experts to join us in June and they all have said yes, pending COVID travel restrictions. We absolutely are hosting on the ground activities that include our tech briefing, our Asteroid Day live programming at BCE studios. We will be sending some astronauts and asteroid experts out to the local schools in Luxembourg. And we are planning on in partnership to Luxembourg Space Agency hosting the astronaut meet and greet.

How can non-space people get involved with Asteroid Day?

They can join both the mailing list on asteroidday.org, where there’s lots of great content. And they can host an Asteroid Day event. The team have developed an Asteroid Day event organiser toolkit in four or five different languages, so whether or not you’re an astronomy club, or a group of parents that want to do something fun with your nine- or 10-year-olds or teenagers, who want to watch bad asteroid movies together and talk about them afterwards. Or if you are a teacher, on the Asteroid Day website you can find this “Learn” series, where you can download content for after-school or in class, to learn about asteroids and asteroid-related things. And, of course, they can watch us.


This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read the full digital version of the magazine on our website, here. You can also choose to receive a hard copy at the office or at home. Subscribe now.

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