If the world-saving mission undertaken in the 1998 film "Armageddon" seemed implausible to you, you weren't alone. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Michael Bay admitted that the central premise of the film, "that [NASA] could actually do something in a situation like this," just wasn't possible.
The European Space Agency doesn't share the same sentiments. The agency is currently studying the feasibility of the proposed mission. It has released plans that, if approved, will jettison a spacecraft in 2015 towards an asteroid to see whether its trajectory can be altered via collision. The idea is to score hard data on the practicality of such a weapon if a real Earth-killer is discovered.
The as-yet-unfunded mission, named Don Quijote, will involve sending two spacecraft towards a near-Earth asteroid; with the 1600-foot-wide asteroid "99942 Apophis" a potential target. That rock has a slim one in 250,000 chance of striking Earth in 2036. Scientists plan to have one heavy satellite slam into the target at around 6 miles per second, while another orbits and observes any change in trajectory.
Sure, it's not the same as Bruce Willis actually landing on the asteroid, drilling a giant hole, and sending a nuclear weapon into the heart of it, but wait! NASA is actually working on achieving that first bit. Challenge accepted, Michael Bay!
Of course, all of this fantastic tech won't help us if we don't have enough prep time to prepare for the Big One. In an interview with Space.com, Rusty Schweickart — a former NASA astronaut and founder of a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroid — says 15 years is probably the minimum lead time.
"Along with the time it takes to assemble a launch vehicle, launch, fly to and rendezvous with an asteroid, you also need 'time enough for the deflection itself to accumulate enough change in the [asteroid] orbit for it to miss the Earth impact. Post deflection will require anywhere from say three to 10 years for the orbit change.'"