What NASA’s asteroid mission can teach you about the benefits of long-term planning

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If you were a cinemagoer in 1998 it’s likely that one of the big Hollywood blockbusters you enjoyed that year centred on a plot that involved a giant asteroid on collision course with Earth.

Deep Impact and Armageddon took more than $900 million between them at the box office, as audiences flocked to see how exactly the planet would deal with, as the former film called it, an “extinction level event”.

Since then, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has been studying the orbits of all known near-Earth objects, predicting their close approaches with Earth, and making comprehensive impact hazard assessments in support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

While the two films used a combination of nuclear bombs and drilling to try and avert global disaster, a recent NASA project has been trialling a more prosaic solution to the problem. Read on to find out more, and what this has to do with your long-term financial plan.

Crashing the DART probe into the moon Dimorphos

Back in late November 2021, NASA launched a 19-metre-long probe on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

On 26 September 2022, the space agency intentionally crashed the probe into Dimorphos, the minor-planet moon of the asteroid Didymos.

Known as the DART mission – Double Asteroid Redirection Test – the purpose of the mission was to see if the path of an asteroid could be changed simply through the kinetic energy of crashing a space probe into it.

Dr Andy Rivkin, mission lead at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL), told the BBC: “This technique, called the ‘kinetic impactor technique’ could be used if there were to be an asteroid that was incoming at some point in the future.

“It’s a very simple idea: you ram the spacecraft into the object you’re worried about, and you use the mass and the speed of your spacecraft to slightly change the orbit of that object enough so that it would miss the Earth instead of hitting the Earth.”

While further results will become available in the next weeks and months, early data obtained by the DART investigation team shows the spacecraft’s kinetic impact with Dimorphos successfully altered the asteroid’s orbit.

JHU-APL say that “this marks humanity’s first time purposely changing the motion of a celestial object and the first full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology”.

Dr Elena Adams, a JHU-APL mission systems engineer, said “Earthlings should sleep better” knowing they had a planetary defence solution.

It’s important to note that, neither Dimorphos nor Didymos poses any hazard to Earth before or after DART’s controlled collision.

Preparing for the worst

Sky surveys have identified more than 95% of the monster asteroids that could initiate a global extinction were they to collide with Earth.

While this provides reassurance that a large rock is not likely to cause a dinosaur extinction level event, this still leaves many so-far undetected smaller objects that could create significant damage and loss of life on a regional or city scale.

Consequently, NASA have designed the DART mission to establish that the planet has a credible plan in place to deal with a major asteroid in the unlikely – but possible – event that one is found to be on collision course with Earth in the future.

The parallels with your own long-term financial plan are obvious.

While you probably don’t want to consider the likelihood of events that will throw your plans off course, it is important that you plan for them now. These might include:

  • A period out of work
  • An accident or injury
  • Being diagnosed with a serious or debilitating illness
  • Something happening to a loved one that means you need to change your way of life
  • Requiring later-life care
  • Passing away prematurely.

All these events will have a significant impact on your financial plan.

For example, a long period of illness in your 50s might mean your earnings reduce. Consequently, you may not end up paying as much into your pension, meaning your pot isn’t as big when you come to retire. This may mean you have to compromise on your post-work plans.

Or, passing away might mean you can no longer provide the financial support you intended to your children, meaning they might not be able to achieve the ambitions you had for them.

Without planning for these issues in advance, your situation might end up looking a lot like the 2021 asteroid drama Don’t Look Up. Here, a failure to plan ended up in a raft of increasingly poor outcomes by the time the credits rolled.

Plan for unexpected events

While planning for unexpected events can’t necessarily stop you becoming ill or having a period off work, it can ensure that you receive an injection of capital when you need it most.

For example, a critical illness cover payout if you have a serious heart attack can ensure you’re not worrying about money while you focus on your health and your recovery.

Even keeping an emergency fund means you can meet your regular bills and keep your financial plan on track if you’re faced with a significant and unexpected expense.

In the next few months, we’ll know whether we can potentially knock a dangerous asteroid out of Earth’s path and save humanity – all because of advance planning.

If you want to also make sure you’re prepared for the worst, now’s the time to plan – not when the asteroid is heading in your direction.

Get in touch

To find out how you can plan for unexpected events, speak to us.

Please contact our email at enquiries@blackswanfp.co.uk or call 020 3828 8100.

Please note

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning, tax planning or will writing.

Note that life insurance plans typically have no cash in value at any time and cover will cease at the end of the term. If premiums stop, then cover will lapse.


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