I think the public perception about asteroids is that they're kind of metaphors for acts of God, the fact that we have no control over the universe. They're always seen as these uncontrollable events. But when you look at the science, they're actually the exact opposite.
One of the reasons NEOWISE is so valuable is that it sees the sky in the thermal infrared. That means that instead of seeing the sunlight that asteroids reflect, NEOWISE sees the heat that they emit. This is a vital capability, since some asteroids are as dark as coal and can be difficult or impossible to spot with other telescopes.
By searching the sky now, me and other asteroid hunters hope to give us the early warning - ideally decades - that we need. But that strategy of focused searching hasn't stopped people from thinking about what we might do if an asteroid was on its way toward us.
It has only been within my lifetime that asteroids have been considered a credible threat to our planet. And since then, there's been a focused effort underway to discover and catalog these objects. I am lucky enough to be part of this effort. I'm part of a team of scientists that use NASA's NEOWISE telescope.