The next time an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, the UN wants to make sure someone calls Bruce Willis. The General Assembly last week gave the green light to an asteroid defense plan drawn up by the former astronauts at the Association of Space Explorers, Scientific American reports. The plan calls for member nations to join forces in an "International Asteroid Warning Group" committed to sounding the alarm if a dangerous rock is spotted. A spacecraft would then be launched to knock the asteroid off course. The ASE also wants the UN to run a practice deflection mission, to make sure the method actually works.
Right now, no nation has an explicit responsibility to defend against an asteroid, and one former astronaut explained why the task should fall to the UN, reports Space.com: "If something goes wrong in the middle of the deflection, you have now caused havoc in some other nation that was not at risk. And, therefore, this decision of what to do, how to do it, and what systems to use have to be coordinated internationally." Further, early detection is essential, because the deflecting spacecraft will likely have to hit the rock five years before its rendezvous with Earth in order to be successful. "If we don't find it until a year out, make yourself a nice cocktail and go out and watch," one former astronaut says. (There's actually a small chance a big asteroid could hit us in 2032.)