NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced on August 21, 2013, that the WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) space telescope, originally launched in 2009 to scan the entire sky to search for objects in infrared, will be retasked to look for Earth approaching asteroids. During its primary and secondary missions, WISE has already detected numerous objects ranging from galaxies and black holes to asteroids residing in our solar system.
WISE’s new mission is considered of some importance because it will detect and characterize more asteroids that might prove to be of hazard to Earth. Some of the asteroids will no doubt also become possible targets for companies like Planetary Resources which are anxious to mine them for useful materials.
The WISE effort will also attempt to find asteroids which could serve as candidates for NASA’s asteroid capture mission. NASA is planning to snag a small asteroid, move it to lunar orbit, and then visit it with astronauts sometime in the decade of the 2020s. Thus far the space agency has not been able to locate an asteroid small enough and in the right orbit to serve as a destination for this mission.