Kiss Your Asteroid Goodbye

Asteroid 2012 DA14 made a record-close pass -- 17,100 miles -- by Earth on February 15. Most asteroids are made of rocks, but some are metal. They orbit mostly between Jupiter and Mars in the main asteroid belt. Scientists estimate there are tens of thousands of asteroids and when they get close to our planet, they are called near-Earth objects.

It could be out there (courtesy of NASA)

I don’t know about you, but all this space stuff is starting to freak me out.

First a meteor explodes over Russia, damaging property and injuring more than a thousand people. No one saw that coming.

The very same day, an asteroid roughly half the size of a football field flew within 17,000 miles of our planet. That may seem kind of far off, but it really isn’t in cosmological terms.

There are comets whizzing by and who knows what the hell is coming next. Maybe “The Big One” is heading towards us right now. Unfortunately, like those poor people in Russia, none of us will likely see it coming, either.

And that is obviously a problem—one that NASA hopes the government will both consider and fund as soon as possible, just to be safe.

Based on the latest estimates, the chances of an asteroid large enough to destroy all life on Earth actually impacting our planet this year are approximately 1 in 20,000.

That’s roughly the same odds as sustaining a fireworks-related injury, being murdered, becoming a professional athlete, dying from a fall or experiencing some kind of air travel accident. Or so they say.

What’s worse, the odds of that kind of space rock hitting us in the next hundred years jumps to 1 in 5,000. And that doesn’t mean it will happen a century from now, either.

It could happen next week. And that’s the wonderful thing about probabilities. You just never know.

But NASA and some other “space cadets” have a plan—a very expensive plan.

“The odds are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large, it makes sense to take the risk seriously,” John Holdren said recently.

Holdren is the director of President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. He also believes that only 10% of asteroids large enough to destroy entire cities have been detected. And that needs to change.

If you really want to know about asteroids, you need to see one up close. NASA did just that. A spacecraft called NEAR-Shoemaker, named in honor of planetary scientist Gene Shoemaker, was the first probe to touch down on an asteroid, landing on the asteroid Eros on February 12, 2001. This image was taken on February 14, 2000, just after the probe began orbiting Eros.

Looks harmless enough, right? (courtesy of NASA)

The good news is that once NASA has the cash, they can move forward on some rather aggressive strategies to detect and react to near-Earth objects (NEOs). One involves sending an infrared sensor into orbit around a planet like Venus, where it could pick up NEOs long before they approach the Earth; another would use a laser to either deflect or destroy any such threat.

President Obama even supports NASA’s goal of sending a human to the surface of an asteroid by 2025. And that carries a price tag of nearly $2 billion.

Billions. Billions. Billions.

It’s all about the money.

So here’s my question—and please call me out if my logic is unsound: If money is a human creation, and humans need money to fund projects intended to save all our asses someday, can’t we just throw everything into a big pot and just write it off later?

I know, I know. Laws of ownership, free trade and likely a thousand other economic policies or ideologies likely prohibit this, but it is a nice thought. And would it really kill us to just contribute all the time and materials for free?

Actually, it might kill us if we don’t. Think of it this way.

As of February, NASA had identified almost 10,000 NEOs. And more than 1,300 of them were classified as potential threats to the Earth. Thankfully, they are being monitored regularly, but that might not be enough.

According to Holdren and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, detecting a major asteroid headed our way now would mean nothing since developing those systems I mentioned would take five years easy. And no sum of money will change that.

What this means to me is this: WE MUST ACT NOW.

This isn’t about the money; it’s about the species. And it’s time to take this seriously.

Or we can all kiss our asses goodbye.

Posted on March 21, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more, there needs to be funding for space based projects we should be starting to look at the idea of traveling farther than our moon to something beyond and ultimately colonizing other planets. After all Mars has water though not habitable at this time it could be a stepping stone towards really getting out there and the asteroids definitely not a bad idea to look out for them and prepare a strategy to deal with them, cause nothing ruins your breakfast more than Rhode Island falling out of the sky and smacking into Greenland…. 😉

  2. At least we would all go together, after the few days of rioting and whatnot that come with impending doom.

  1. Pingback: Teenagers Kissing to Death | Broken Penguins

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