NASA, along with its international partners, is set to conduct a mock exercise that will play out a realistic -- but fictional -- scenario for an asteroid on an impact trajectory with Earth. The exercise will help the planetary defense community understand the important aspects of a possible disaster and identify issues for accomplishing a successful response.
The real work of preparing for the possibility of an impact of near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids or comets goes on mostly out of the public eye, NASA said in a statement.
In the spirit of better communication, next week at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference, NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in a 'tabletop exercise'.
A tabletop exercise of a simulated emergency is commonly used in disaster management planning to help inform involved players of important aspects of a possible disaster and identify issues for accomplishing a successful response.
Attendees at the conference will play out a fictional NEO impact scenario developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).
"These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know," said Lindley Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer.
"This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments," said Johnson.
These exercises are not tightly scripted. The point is to investigate how NEO observers, space agency officials, emergency managers, decision makers, and citizens might respond to an actual impact prediction and evolving information.
The exercise events will occur over the five days of the conference, with exercise leaders briefing participants on the status of the scenario at the end of each day and soliciting response ideas and feedback, based on the latest fictional data.
The scenario begins with the fictional premise that on March 26, astronomers 'discovered' a NEO they consider potentially hazardous to Earth.
After a 'few months' of tracking, observers predict that this NEO --dubbed 2019 PDC -- poses a 1 in 100 chance of impact with Earth in 2027.
Participants in this exercise will discuss potential preparations for asteroid reconnaissance and deflection missions and planning for mitigation of a potential impact's effects.
NASA has participated in six NEO impact exercises so far three at Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017) and three jointly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The three NASA-FEMA exercises included representatives of several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State. Each exercise builds on lessons learned in the previous exercise.
What NASA has learned from working with FEMA is that emergency management officials are not focused on the scientific details about the asteroid.
"What emergency managers want to know is when, where, and how an asteroid would impact and the type and extent of damage that could occur," said Leviticus Lewis, Response Operations Division for FEMA.