The 94941’s ties to innovation also includes interplanetary endeavors, as the B612 Foundation, a 13-year-old organization founded to build awareness about the problems posed by asteroids “and the solutions that can be employed to stop future asteroid impacts,” has an office in downtown Mill Valley.
“We are part of a group of folks who have created a effort to begin a global dialogue to educate the world about science and scientists who study asteroids,” says Danica Remy, B612’s chief operating officer, a fourth generation Marinite and a 40-year Mill Valley resident who works out of B612’s Mill Valley office (the foundation also has an office on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park).
Founded by Apollo 9 astronaut Russell “Rusty” Schweickart in 2002 and named after the asteroid in Antoine de St. Exupéry’s story The Little Prince, the B612 Foundation has been getting lots of attention from Newsweek and science media outlets recently. On Tuesday, June 30 the foundation is co-hosting a day-long event at the California Academy of Sciences for Asteroid Day, designed to raise awareness of the potentially catastrophic risk of an impact. The group is looking for volunteers to participate in the event – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
Three years ago, soon after Remy join her longtime friend Schweickart at B612, the foundation launched Sentinel Mission, a campaign to raise $450 million to launch a space telescope dedicated to finding hundreds of thousands of near-Earth objects as the first major step in planning to prevent their collision with Earth. Although NASA signed an agreement in 2012 with the B612 Foundation to provide analytical support and, once the spacecraft is in orbit, a data downlink, the agency is considering funding an alternative mission, the Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam), initially proposed to the agency in 2006, according to Nature magazine.
Remy and the B612 Foundation are agnostic about who funds the effort – just that it happens.
“Whether it’s NASA or the European Space Agency or us or someone else, someone has to pay for it – our goal is simply that it happens,” she says. “We have the technology to solve this problem – we just need to get it done.”
Asteroid Day is timed to harken back to June 30, 1908, the day an asteroid struck the Tunguska region of Russia, devastating a forested area the size of a large city. Asteroid Day's backers, including science heavy hitters Chris Hadfield, Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins, are calling for a 100-fold acceleration of efforts to detect near-Earth asteroids in the next decade and increased funding to achieve this goal.
A meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia (pictured below), in 2013 illustrated the potential risk. Although the rock was only around 20 meters across, it was the most energetic impact recorded since Tunguska. No one died, but about 1,500 people were injured as the blast blew out windows and damaged buildings.
While ground-based surveys have located roughly 90 percent of the large asteroids that might be a concern — think those larger than one kilometer that were the antagonists of 1990s films like Armageddon and Deep Impact – Sentinel and its ilk are primarily worried about asteroids of up to a few hundred meters in diameter, about which much less is known. They often cite the object that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013 was estimated to have been about 20 meters in diameter. The explosion injured more than 1,500 people.
Former astronaut and B612 Foundation chief executive Edward Lu told Nature that even if NASA terminates its agreement with the foundation, he vows to keep the project going. “This is pretty darn exciting work,” Remy says.
The 411: More info on the B612 Foundation, Sentinel Mission and Asteroid Day. List of Asteroid Day events around the world.