NASA Is Calling All Nerds to Help Save the World

Want to be an asteroid hunter? The space agency wants your help.

National Journal

NASA needs a hand finding asteroids that threaten our planet — so it's turning to crowdsourcing.

The space agency announced Monday it's looking for data jockeys to help it track asteroids, including ones that could come close — in space distances — to the Earth. At stake is not only the planet's survival, but $35,000 in reward money that NASA is putting up for Asteroid Grand Challenge winners.

"The dinosaurs would have cared if they knew about this problem," says the NASA video announcing the contest. "So let's be smarter than them."

So what does NASA want from citizen scientists? Better algorithms for identifying asteroids in the images it picks up with its telescopes. The challenge is to "increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems."

Not only does NASA want help spotting asteroids; it's also looking for ideas on what to do if it spots a dangerous space rock hurtling toward Earth. The end goal: "Find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them."

NASA isn't alone in the project. Planetary Resources, a company that plans to mine metals from nearby asteroids, is also backing the challenge. "We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich," said Chris Lewicki, the company's president.

The challenge could also be a boon to NASA's goal of redirecting and landing astronauts on an asteroid next decade.