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A History of Near-Earth Objects Research

Image Background of Earth and Asteroid

By Erik M. Conway, Donald K. Yeomans, and Meg Rosenburg

In 2016, NASA took on a new responsibility: defending our planet from devastating impacts by asteroids and comets that approach the Earth, or near-Earth objects. That event, which followed the prominent Chelyabinsk meteor explosion in 2013, reflected a growing interest in, and concern about, the threat of celestial impacts. In ancient times, the solar system’s small bodies—asteroids and comets—were sometimes seen as ill omens and warnings from the gods. In modern times, they have come to be seen as the solar system’s rubble, leftovers from its formation, but were still largely ignored until the late 20th century. Increasingly, they have been seen by scientists as objects worthy of study, by the general public and the U.S. government as potential threats to be mitigated, and by space advocates as future resources. This book tells the fascinating story of these reinterpretations and NASA’s role in them.