Aerospace graduate student works in planetary defense

Brian Kaplinger, a PhD student in aerospace engineering at Iowa State, is working on something that just might protect humanity from a devastating asteroid impact someday. Working in trajectory optimization for the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State, Brian’s area of expertise is computer simulations. Using those simulations he can calculate how to minimize damages to the earth and its inhabitants should the situation arise where the use of munitions to blow up an impending asteroid is the best option.

Brian’s research interest may sound like the plot of the popular 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, but it’s not near as simple as Bruce Willis makes it look on the big screen. Not only does Brian account for the rotation and speed of the earth as it orbits the sun, as well as the speed, rotation, size, and direction of the anticipated asteroid, he also must negotiate all of these variables and figure out how the asteroid will break apart. Determining how the object will fragment is vital, because he then can calculate where those pieces will impact the earth. This goal is very much in line with that outlined by both President Obama at the Kennedy Space Station (Thursday, April 15, 2010) to conduct manned missions to near-earth asteroids and a NASA task force who also met that same day in Boston to work on a contingency plan should Earth ever need protection from a cataclysmic impact of an asteroid or comet.[1]

Brian is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, and received his BS in aerospace engineering from Iowa State in 2009. He has been working with Professor Bong Wie since he was an undergraduate student. In fact, Brian worked with Wie throughout the process of founding the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State, currently the only funded university-level center of its type in the United States. Brian is considering a career in academe but is open to the possibility of a position in industry, working in planetary defense for an organization like NASA. Regardless of where he decides to work, we will all be thankful for his efforts should the earth ever face the reality of an asteroid situation like those so popular in the movies.

[1] ©2010 The Associated Press


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