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Ex-astronaut makes case for better asteroid detection

Making a case for the need to detect asteroids before they hit Earth, a former astronaut said Wednesday that the number of casualties would have been enormous had the space rock that exploded in Russia last month blown apart
directly over New York City instead.

“We’d have a lot more than broken windows, that’s for sure,’’ the former astronaut, Edward Lu, told a Senate panel in Washington.

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Lu, also a former Google executive, is now the chief executive of the B612 Foundation, a Silicon Valley group that wants to build a privately financed asteroid-detecting space telescope.

About 1,500 people were injured when the meteor, roughly 60 feet in diameter, exploded high in the atmosphere near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15.

Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass from shattered windows when a shock wave from the explosion — estimated to have been about 30 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — hit the city about a minute and a half later.

“Had that shock wave been a lot closer to a city, it would have caused a lot more damage,’’ Lu said.

He also noted that if the Tunguska event — the explosion of an asteroid roughly 150 feet long over Siberia in 1908 — had occurred over New York, ‘‘whatever the population of New York City is, they’d be gone.’’

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