NASA Revives Mothballed Spacecraft to Be Asteroid Hunter

NASA is bringing a retired spacecraft back to life to search for potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

NASA is bringing a retired spacecraft back to life to search for potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) worked from January 2010 to February 2011, hunting for and characterizing tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system. Now the spacecraft, which has been in hibernation mode with most of its electronics turned off, will begin work again -- this time searching for asteroids flying precariously close to Earth, as well as for asteroids that might be suitable for study.

"The WISE mission achieved its mission's goals...," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science, in a statement. "NASA is now extending that record of success, which will enhance our ability to find potentially hazardous asteroids, and support the new asteroid initiative. Reactivating WISE is an excellent example of how we are leveraging existing capabilities across the agency to achieve our goal."

Asteroids have been a key point of interest for NASA. While scientists are always on the lookout for near-Earth objects that could impact the planet, NASA announced in April that President Obama's 2014 budget request included funding for a plan to capture and redirect an asteroid into orbit around Earth so astronauts could study it.

Ultimately, the project, which is getting resistance from House Republicans, is aimed at learning more about the makeup of asteroids in an attempt to protect the Earth from devastating collisions.

NASA said Wednesday that the WISE spacecraft will be revived next month and refocused on discovering and characterizing space rocks that can be found orbiting within 28 million miles of Earth.

NASA said scientists anticipate WISE will use its 16-inch telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown near-Earth objects and characterize the size, ability to reflect light and thermal properties of about 2,000 others.

While WISE was working on its initial mission between 2010 and 2011, the spacecraft made about 7,500 images daily. It made the most accurate survey to date of near-Earth objects and discovered 21 comets, more than 34,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and 135 near-Earth objects, NASA reported.

"The data collected two years ago have proven to be a gold mine...," said Lindley Johnson, NASA's WISE program executive. "It is important that we accumulate as much of this type of data as possible while the WISE spacecraft remains a viable asset."

This article, NASA revives mothballed spacecraft to be asteroid hunter, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "NASA Revives Mothballed Spacecraft to Be Asteroid Hunter" was originally published by Computerworld.

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