How NASA’s planetary defense officer will protect Earth from asteroids

How NASA’s planetary defense officer will protect Earth from asteroids

It’s not hard to find innovative job titles in Corporate America – Apple has the genius, eBay has the chief curator and AOL has the digital prophet. But NASA may have just topped all of them with a truly out-of-this-world innovation title: planetary defense officer.

The job description for planetary defense officer, the official title for the head of NASA’s newly formed Planetary Defense Coordination Office, essentially boils down to this: Protect the planet from collisions with a near-Earth object such as an asteroid or comet. You know, just like in the movies Armageddon or Deep Impact, where a near-Earth object threatens to obliterate the planet.

The current holder of the planetary defense officer position is Lindley Johnson, a longtime near-Earth object program executive at NASA, who will now head up the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The office remains within NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. The group is responsible for supervision of all projects to detect and track potentially hazardous objects such as asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit.

The officer will also play a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats, including coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In a Hollywood movie, the planetary defense officer would likely be one of the individuals on the call to the White House, informing the president of a potential catastrophic deep impact.

“The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” said Johnson.

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