The US has delayed dismantling some of its nuclear warhead components in order to potentially use them to defend against a future asteroid strike, according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to a report from the Government Accountability Office on the National Nuclear Security Administration, the dismantling of the weapons is pending until a senior-level evaluation can be undertaken to measure “their use in planetary defence against earth-bound asteroids.”
Although the plan sounds almost identical to Michael Bay’s 1998 disaster film Armageddon, NASA is set on the possibility that nuclear weapons could actually be used to block the threat of incoming asteroids.
NASA has previously funded a number of studies into how nuclear weapons could be used to protect the earth from incoming asteroids. The research has envisioned various scenarios in which a nuclear weapon is launched into space to either knock an asteroid off course or blast it into smaller pieces that would disintegrate in the earth’s atmosphere.
The possible use of nuclear weapons close to the earth’s atmosphere has detractors, though. Jay Melos, a professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary studies at Purdue University, told the Wall Street Journal that asteroid defence is possibly “an excuse for keeping the nuclear arsenal together.”
Melos, and fellow critics of nuclear asteroid defence, envision a number of other possible methods for defending the planet.
For instance, NASA launched a 2005 mission, Deep Impact, in which an 820-pound battering ram smashed into the asteroid Tempel 1. The mission was deemed a success as the comet’s course was slightly changed after the ram achieved impact:
Depending upon the situation, the US’s plan to use nuclear weapons to destroy asteroids could break the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which prohibits nuclear weapons from being stored in space or on celestial bodies.