Detecting Asteroids, Meteors Takes On New Urgency

Elizabeth Weise and Dan Vergano | USA Today | February 18, 2013

A meteor-mapping satellite is envisioned that could serve as a space sentry to detect future close encounters and allow scientists to better protect the planet.

Earth may have survived its close encounters with an asteroid and a meteor Friday, but the episodes focused new attention on gaps in astronomers' ability to identify smaller space rocks like these capable of inflicting widespread destruction. Efforts to better identify those threats are underway, including a new space telescope from a Silicon Valley foundation, and a coordinated telescope system in Hawaii.

"We're carrying out the most ambitious private interplanetary space mission ever. We're building a space telescope, we're going to find them and track them so we have decades of notice before another one of these hits," says Ed Lu, a former shuttle and International Space Station astronaut who heads the B612 Foundation. If it is able to raise $450 million, the scientists plan to launch a meteor-mapping satellite in 2017 or 2018.

Hits on its website increased more than 1,000% in the past two days, said spokeswoman Diane Murphy. "We have received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from private online donors in support of this global effort." A $1,000 donation came in over the weekend from someone in Lithuania, she said...