The U.S. government is stepping up efforts to protect the planet from incoming asteroids that could wipe out entire regions or even continents.

The National Science and Technology Council released a report Wednesday calling for improved asteroid detection, tracking and deflection. NASA is participating, along with federal emergency, military, White House and other officials.

A mission to defend planet Earth could involve hitting the asteroid or comet with big, fast-moving robotic spacecraft in hopes of changing its path; or worst case, launching a nuclear device not to blow up the asteroid but rather to superheat its surface and blow off enough material to divert it.

“Part of what this action plan is about is to investigate other technologies, techniques for both deflection and disruption of the asteroid,” NASA’s planetary defense officer, Lindley Johnson told reporters.

Most of the extra work can be done with existing funds, said Aaron Miles of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “This is more about figuring out how to use those resources smartly,” he said. – AP

Featured image: “A huge meteor flew over the Urals early in the morning of 02/15/2013. The fireball exploded above Chelyabinsk city that caused damages of buildings and hundreds of people injured. This photo was taken at about 200km distance in a minute after I saw the blast.” by Alex Alishevskikh public domain

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