It turns out that about the time Bruce Willis and his crew of oil-field workers were on a fictional asteroid trying to prevent it from destroying the world in the movie Armageddon, the folks over at NASA were actually starting up a program to try and spot incoming asteroids the way that guy on the Titanic was supposed to be looking for icebergs (though maybe that's not the greatest analogy).
Anyway, in 1998, the same year Armageddon came out, NASA set up the Near Earth Object Observation Program (a.k.a. NEOO) to try and make sure that an asteroid the size of Texas would be spotted long before it actually destroyed the planet or required Hollywood movie science to make things turn out okay.
The object seemingly being to prevent the real President of the United States and somebody high-up and fancy at NASA, played by Billy Bob Thornton in the movie, from having a conversation like this:
President: "We didn't see this thing coming?"
NASA-guy-played-by-Thornton-in-the-movie: "Well, our object collision budget's a million dollars. That allows us to track about 3% of the sky, and beg'n your pardon, sir, but it's a big-ass sky."
So that was all awhile back.
Now, despite a marked lack of enthusiasm from Congress - they'd rather see NASA folks focused on another trip to the moon and a first manned mission to Mars than playing with asteroids -- the space program is working on their asteroid project, which includes an "asteroid retrieval program" along with exploring ways to stop an asteroid if one big enough to do movie-level damage actually starts on a collision course with Earth. In that spirit, this week NASA people sent out a request for information asking for suggestions on the "system concepts and innovative approaches for both aspects of the recently announced Asteroid Initiative." The initiative totally includes "an increased focus on defending our planet against the threat of catastrophic asteroid collisions," along with a field trip to actually retrieve an asteroid -- which BTW sounds like the funnest work field trip ever.
I know, I can already hear it now: Why would they go fishing for ideas? As Bruce Willis pointed out in the movie about this, they're friggin' NASA.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But maybe it's because of the budget cuts in recent years, or maybe it's because they realize it's always better to have more minds kicking around ideas instead of fewer, they're asking people to send their brilliant schemes in. If you've ever dreamed of being Bruce Willis circa Armageddon, or even a young Elijah Wood spotting an asteroid in that other asteroid movie of 1998, Deep Impact (Spoiler: The asteroid actually hits in that one), now's your chance.
NASA is accepting RFIs on this until July 18, so get your asteroid-destroying, earth-saving, famous-name-making idea in there ASAP. Then maybe an asteroid will try to hit and someone can play you in a movie! Maybe Bruce Willis will be in it! (Assuming your idea works and the world isn't destroyed.)
Ooh, and then maybe you'll be in a position to "make a few requests" if an asteroid ever does decide to try and get up close and personal with the planet, à la Bruce Willis and company. You could ask to stay at the White House. Or to never pay taxes again. Or to get all those speeding tickets dismissed. Whatever.