Asteroids hit the Earth more often than most people realize. The B612 Foundation is a nonprofit working to predict asteroid impacts decades ahead of time, so that we can use existing technology to prevent those impacts from happening. We've assembled the world's finest group of spacecraft engineers and mission designers to carry out the Sentinel Mission. I've been lucky enough to get to be part of some great projects, but the Sentinel Mission is the most important thing I've ever done.

added 11:12AM - thanks everyone - it's been fun!

Comments: 563 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

edluB612395 karma

Here is some food for thought. Sometime in the next decade, Sentinel will find an asteroid that is going to hit the Earth. And the people of Earth will take action and deflect that asteroid. For real.

carlos_the_dwarf_73 karma

How can you say with certainty that you will find one?

edluB61253 karma

Yes, we cannot say this with "certainty", similar to how I cannot say with certainty that if you play 50 hands of blackjack that you will not win them all (hey, it's possible). Sentinel will discover hundreds of thousands of Near Earth Asteroids, and the odds are we will find some threats in there.

chooter160 karma

Thank you for saving the world!

Silly question - what are your favorite space-themed movies?

edluB612244 karma

Apollo 13!
and of course Galaxy Quest.

edluB612197 karma

BTW, my crewmates and I on Shuttle mission STS-106 all watched Galaxy Quest in crew quarters just before our launch! "Never Give Up!"

Lurking_Alone97 karma


edluB612129 karma

Nice graphic. But we don't need to stop all of them, just the ones that are going to hit us! And the point is that it is going to take public support to do that, just like it takes public support to build the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art addition.

RobertTrembley87 karma

What was your first thought, looking back at Earth for the first time?

edluB612188 karma

My first thought was literally "Holy Sh**!" It is beyond beautiful.

RobertTrembley61 karma

When I show this graph during my Asteroid lectures, I get gasps: - from the JPL NEO Stats page:

This video about Asteroid Discovery from 1980-2012 is also amazing:

edluB61291 karma

BTW, Scott Manley of Kerbel Space Program fame made that video!

Endeavorist56 karma

Hi Ed!

We're so glad you decided to put your research in motion. For our entrepreneurial researchers out there - what are some struggles you faced when starting this foundation?

Tell us more about Sentinel! This mission sounds really exciting. We too believe that this is a very important step towards our future space endeavors, and our own safety.

How are you planning to involve the general public in this mission?

edluB61296 karma

Thanks! Public support for Sentinel is crucial. The public needs to know that they can make Sentinel happen. Yes, it is expensive - it will cost roughly as much as half of the new addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art! But in this case we get to save the world!

edluB61255 karma

By the way, you can get more information on Sentinel and B612 Foundation on our FB page, or just be amused by the comments from our social media maven Julie on twitter at @b612foundation.

illectro44 karma

Ed, first up, thanks for continuing to work on saving the world. Also thanks for the coffee cup.

I'm kind of curious as to how you ended up getting interested in the impact hazard, I understand you used to study solar physics before your Astronaut career. What series of observations and realizations brought you into your prominent position on this topic.

When I was a postgrad I was advised to stay away from the subject because it was perceived as being a bit 'dramatic'.

edluB61266 karma

If you spend enough time seeing the Earth from space, and looking out at craters on the Moon and on Earth, it becomes clear that we have to eventually solve this problem of asteroid impacts. We only recently have the technology to do something about it. The infrared detector technology for Sentinel, as well as asteroid deflection technology like kinetic impactors were not possible just 20 years ago. We have no excuse not to do this now!

PrairieKid38 karma

Howdy- Thanks for the AMA.

I had a question about the asteroids themselves. There has been talk of us "harvesting" the asteroids for material and I've even heard some people saying we could inhabit them. What is your take?

edluB61257 karma

Perhaps it will be possible someday. Of course the real question is if it will be profitable or not! But again, you can't mine an asteroid you haven't found yet.....

ProjectNew33 karma

What options would NASA or other advanced government agencies (not just US) have if a large asteroid were on a collision-course with Earth?

edluB61280 karma

Once Sentinel gives us decades of warning, we have many options to deflect an asteroid. The key is realizing it only takes a very tiny change in the velocity of an asteroid to make it miss (as long as you apply that change many years before the impact). We could use a combination of kinetic impacts (simply running into the asteroid with a small spacecraft like we did with the Deep Impact Mission in 2005 on Comet Tempel 1) and Gravity Tractors to fine tune our deflection.

But again, this only works for asteroids we know about! So the first and most important step is Sentinel.

Universu25 karma

Greetings Dr. Lu, I have a few curious questions for you!

Is there a chance that NASA will help fastract the development and much earlier launch of Sentinel?

What is the latest status of Sentinel and when will it launch based from your current programming?

What are the current Asteroid NEO PHO hunter(s) that are operational today?

How is Sentinel different from other Asteroid hunting satellites?

Which Asteroid should Human explore? and why?

After Mars which terrestrial body should be explored by humans? Is Ceres a possibility?

Thank you

edluB61238 karma

NASA is already a partner in that they are allowing us to use (free of charge) their network of antennas on Earth to receive data from Sentinel. And in return, we will make all the data available to scientists around the world. We are currently working towards our 2nd major technical milestone called the Mission Architecture Approval, by which time we will have performance requirements defined for each of the subsystems of Sentinel as well as mission control etc.

RobfromNorthlands25 karma

What is the threat of impacts? Are we facing global extinction or more disaster type scenarios? I presume disaster but how bad?

edluB61242 karma

Asteroids have a big range in sizes. At the small end, a Hiroshima bomb sized asteroid explosion in the upper atmosphere happens about once a year! At the largest end, we are talking about the end of human civilization. There is only about a .01 percent chance of this happening during your lifetime, but that would certainly not be a good thing! That's why we at the B612 Foundation felt we had to do something about it.

ObamaFalure22 karma

Should I be concerned about large asteroids hitting earth?

edluB61235 karma

Instead of being scared, we've chosen to do something about it! That's the cool thing - by working together and using our brains, we can actually stop this process of large asteroids hitting the Earth.

CactusPete18 karma

Hi Ed, as someone else said, Thank you for saving the world - what a great business card that would be.

Can you comment on the future of manned spaceflight? For many who are adults today, Apollo and the Shuttle glorified manned exploration, tho the Shuttle did it less so, in low orbit. Now there are few if any manned plans, it seems. And one long-range worst-case strategy for surviving impacts is to have a pool of humans off planet and independently sustainable.

Mars is calling us, and maybe the moon. We have the technology, but perhaps not the will, which relates to lack of public enthusiasm for exploration. There is perhaps no more important mission on the planet, than getting humanity off the planet.

Keep up the good work, and I hope to work with your organization at some point, or perhaps bump into you at the Lunar Commissary, once its up and running.

edluB61223 karma

I completely agree with you on the need to push outwards in space. But I'm not as pessimistic about the future of manned spaceflight. I am one of the members of the SpaceX external safety review panel for their manned Dragon program, and I can tell you that exciting things are on the horizon there! And NASA still has great people who want to do great things.

See you at the Lunar Commisary someday!

Acgcbc18 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA Mr. Lu! See you’re from Webster! From Rush-Henrietta myself! Anyways, my question: I’m majoring in physics, but would like to know - what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome, academic and/or personal? Any advice? Thank you very much for your time!

edluB61228 karma

Nice to hear from a fellow Rochester person! And glad to hear you are studying physics. I think the biggest obstacles are ones we put up for ourselves. Not everything goes your way the first time (or even the tenth time). It's more about picking yourself up and finding your way forward.

edluB61230 karma

Yes, I tried it once (with not good success). But it is definitely a cool game! Big thanks to Scott Manley!

yishan16 karma

Hey Ed, good to see you and welcome back! I just wanted to say to everyone that this is a cause that I really believe in and have personally backed (haha, i can tell no one has gone to the B612 page yet because if so there'd be a post here saying "wtf, yishan's on one of these pages" - by the way Ed, I think you have to add an "http://" to your link to cause it to auto-linkify in your post details). I think there are a lot of people on reddit who would be interested in this and understand all the science behind the issue so I'm glad you're doing the AMA.

I suppose I should ask a question, so: what is your funniest story from astronaut training?

edluB61216 karma

Thanks Yishan! And for those who don't know - Yishan here is one of our strong supporters of B612 Foundation (he is after all a visionary guy).

Well, this was maybe not so funny at the time, but as a brand new astronaut in one of my first Space Shuttle simulator sessions I mistakenly shut down the main software program causing us to default to the backup flight software. We ended up having to abort our launch profile and instead downmode to an emergency landing in Africa (called a transatlantic abort, or TAL). Henceforth my fellow newbie astronauts termed my actions the 4-man screaming TAL maneuver. It took a long time to live that one down!

TheTrillionthApe14 karma

Commander C. Hadfield earned a great deal of fame on expedition 33 and 34 last year. Though what he did any astronaut could have arguably done. Why do you think Hadfield had so much success? Did you ever try to reach the masses while in space? Why don't more astronauts try accessing the layman?

And if you would wish me luck in engineering at concordia university, montreal, canada, i'll cry like a little girl.

Best wishes, -Paul TTA

edluB61219 karma

Yes, Chris did a fantastic job of reaching out and sharing his experiences with the public. He did this with the full support and help of the Canadian Space Agency. Up until recently, NASA was shall we say not so forward thinking. But I think they are coming around to the advantages of allowing astronauts to reach out directly to the public without layers of public relations people in between.

And best of luck with your engineering curriculum at Concordia University!

skresovs14 karma

Theoretically, if we learned that a moderately large asteroid was going to impact populated land on earth in 72 hours, would we do anything about it or do we not have the capability right now?

edluB61231 karma

Evacuation would be our only option then, and depending on the size of the asteroid, that may not even be possible. Best not to get into this situation and instead lets find out years or even decades in advance.

edluB61232 karma

BTW, I was one of millions of people who evacuated Houston for a hurricane back in 2004. Believe me, evacuating that many people is not an easy thing! It took us nearly 12 hours just to drive to Austin.

El_Bard014 karma

Hi Dr. Lu. I attended your presentation in Dallas this past week and one thing you said really resonated with me: "The age of big ideas isn't over. You just have to go out there and do them". With NASA budgets being constantly slashed and lack of awareness/interest in space science from the general public, do you think we will ever get back to the days were big ideas (like the Space Shuttle, or the ISS, or Hubble space telescope) were something that excited everyone and inspired our youth to go into STEM fields?

BTW many thanks and upmost respect and support to you and your team for literally trying to save our planet!

edluB61210 karma

Thanks for attending our talk at the Perot Museum! And yes, I absolutely believe we as humans will continue to do big things in space. As long as there are people like us who want this to happen, it will.

palebluedotter13 karma

What do you think Carl Sagan would have to say about the B612 Foundation and your work?

edluB61238 karma

I think he would approve. One of my favorite Carl Sagan quotes is this: “On that Pale Blue Dot….everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…… Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand”

BTW, the only time I actually spoke to Carl Sagan was when I was an undergrad at Cornell. I was late for something and running down a hall in the physics building. I came around a corner and nearly ran over Dr. Sagan! The only words I ever said to him were "excuse me!". So I've got that going for me......

5cienta13 karma

How did you get interested in science and when did you decide you wanted to be an astronaut? Thanks for the AMA!

edluB61222 karma

I always wanted to be a scientist since I was a little kid. Not sure why, but it's what I've always wanted to do.

biernas13 karma

Do you find yourself watching movies like Deep Impact/Armageddon and just chuckling at how unrealistic the thought is? At least I hope you do.. lol

edluB61223 karma

Yes. And I even like to tell people that the cost of making those 2 movies is almost enough to build Sentinel!

julieb61213 karma

I bet that if every person who bought a ticket to see Armageddon when it was playing in theaters donated the ticket price (maybe plus the bag of popcorn too), then we'd have Sentinel fully funded already :)

edluB61216 karma

Hey, now there is an idea!

vaironl12 karma

Hello Mr. Ed Lu,

Besides sharing and donating what are other ways we could help out? I'm a computer scientist and I'm pretty sure that's a part of the program which must be done by experts. But any other way we could volunteer?

edluB61216 karma

Sharing, donating, and helping spread the word about Sentinel are crucial!

Don't underestimate how important this is.

mac_b11 karma

I once got a chance to talk with astronaut Andrew Feustel, and I asked him what his favourite food to eat in space was. He kind of chuckled and said "a Milky Way Bar". Do astronauts generally have a good repertoire of 'astronaut humour'?

edluB61222 karma

Seems like I need to have a word with Drew's joke writers....

powermargin7 karma

We've assembled the world's finest group of spacecraft engineers and mission designers to carry out the Sentinel Mission.

Wow, your review board is literally an all-star team when it comes to unmanned science spacecraft development. Good job in getting that group together, make good use of them!

edluB61210 karma

And that is just the review board. We also have Scott Hubbard (former NASA Mars Czar) and Harold Reitsema (originator of the concept of the infrared space telescope in Venus trailing orbit for finding asteroids), and the team from Ball Aerospace that built the Kepler Space Telescope. I can't think of a better team.

75736 karma

Such a cool job! I am just curious though, do you see private organizations and business fulfilling all roles in space at any point in time? Or will there always be a need for government funded missions?

edluB61211 karma

No, I definitely see a role for government funded missions. Sometimes there just isn't a short term enough economic motive to do something, and that's where the government comes in. But in the case of the asteroid threat, it clearly isn't being addressed fully by NASA, and so we at the B612 Foundation felt we had no choice but to do it ourselves.

5cienta6 karma

What do you think about asteroid mining? If it is feasible when do you think it will first happen?

edluB6127 karma

While doing a spacewalk I got to watch hundreds of nighttime thunderstorms with their flickering purplish lightning over the Amazon basin. It was surreal!

happytimefuture6 karma

Thank you for doing the AmA Mr. Lu. Can you tell me what you think mankind's next big invention will be? On the level of steam engine, flight, nuclear power, etc. Your recent "Age of Big Ideas" comments are very inspiring and I'd appreciate hearing more. Also: Aliens? Any thoughts there? Thanks!

edluB6129 karma

I wish I knew! All is know is that is one worldwide challenge that I do know how to solve (asteroid impacts) and that is what I'm devoting my life to.

I do think there is likely to be life elsewhere in the universe. Given the huge number of planets that the Kepler Mission has shown us exist, it is hard to believe that there isn't other places with life besides here.

DoodleBug93615 karma

You are an amazing hero! Thank you for being brave enough to help humanity expand our knowledge of space!

Here's my question: In your opinion, what colour m&m would be the best to have on the space station?

edluB61210 karma

Definitely Blue. And definitely the peanut ones.

Lateralus0204 karma

Hi Ed, did you always plan on receiving your PhD in physics while getting your degree in engineering? Or was is it an interest that came up while studying engineering?

edluB61211 karma

Originally I set out in college to become an engineer. But while taking physics classes, I realized that I absolutely loved it. In particular, I took an astrophysics class on Black Holes, Neutron Stars and Compact Objects taught by Prof. Saul Teukolsky that really introduced me to the subject. I thought it was just amazing that not only did such things exist, but that we could actually understand them.

NotMathMan8214 karma

Can you describe your typical day at work?

I'd like to know if I should look up my old high school guidance counselor and deliver a stern tongue-lashing for not advising that I could make a career out of blowing up shit up in space.

edluB6129 karma

My typical day involves keeping track of progress with our technical team, meetings with donors, and sometimes even getting to do a reddit AMA!

CaptainTachyon3 karma

First off, cool to see you're from Rochester. I'm studying physics at RIT myself, so it's cool to see someone from the area contributing to the sciences in such a useful way. Here's what I'm wondering: What sort of people do you have working with you on Sentinel? What's the breakdown of scientists, engineers, people dealing with the financial end, etc? Surely a lot of people would ultimately need to be involved to move that sort of project forward, and you must have a really interesting team.

edluB6128 karma

We have a mix of folks and you can see some our leadership here:

You are right that it takes various types, from finance to operations to actual rocket scientists.

5cienta3 karma

What are some examples of the "existing technologies" that prevent asteroid impacts?

edluB6125 karma

Look up Kinetic Impactors and Gravity Tractors!

5cienta2 karma

What were you working on at Google after you retired from NASA and did you enjoy it?

edluB6127 karma

Google was and is a great company. My teams there worked on the imaging for Google Earth, Google Maps, and Street View. Also Google PowerMeter and other energy projects. Lots of fun!

RGW7222 karma

Thank you for doing the AMA, sir. How likely is it that the Earth will be hit by an asteroid in the next 100 years? Should I have more kids?

edluB6125 karma

I can't answer the kids question! But recent data show that multi-megaton impacts are more likely than we thought. Statistically there is more than a 30% chance of a multi-megaton impact happening somewhere on Earth during your lifetime. True, much of the Earth is unpopulated - but wouldn't it be a shame if the next one hits a major city?

PenntuckyFriedPanda1 karma

Playing devils advocate here, what is the advantages of a comet hitting the earth?

edluB6126 karma

Well, we are only here because the dinosaurs, which were once the top of the food chain, were wiped out. But now that we are on top, I can't think of any advantages!