SPACE ROCKS

Stewart Dean: ‘Re: ‘This is a cataclysm we could head off. Maybe we should try?’ Naaaah, give God a clean piece of paper to try again……’

☞ You know you’re just annoying Him with talk like that. Cut it out.

Jim Hayes: ‘There is a group that lobbies congress about Near Earth Objects.’

☞ See page 5 of their agenda for more scary facts.

Peter Kaczowka: ‘Deflecting an asteroid would require exploding large thermonuclear bombs on or near the asteroid. To save critical launch time, and reduce the size of the missiles needed, the bombs would likely be kept in space, in orbit around the earth. The result will be nuclear weapons in space. I still remember the Cuba Missile Crisis, and “duck-and-cover” drills. I’ll take my chances with an asteroid, thank you.’

☞ Happily, we don’t need to blow anything up. If you read that Atlantic Monthly article, you’ll see there are more benign options:

Tiny alterations might be enough to deflect a space rock . . . Schweickart envisions a ‘gravitational tractor,’ a spacecraft weighing only a few tons-enough to have a slight gravitational field. If an asteroid’s movements were precisely understood, placing a gravitational tractor in exactly the right place should, ever so slowly, alter the rock’s course, because low levels of gravity from the tractor would tug at the asteroid. The rock’s course would change only by a minuscule amount, but it would miss the hole-in-one pipe to Earth.

Will the gravitational-tractor idea work? The B612 Foundation recommends testing the technology on an asteroid that has no chance of approaching Earth. If the gravitational tractor should prove impractical or ineffective, other solutions could be considered. Attaching a rocket motor to the side of an asteroid might change its course. So might firing a laser: as materials boiled off the asteroid, the expanding gases would serve as a natural jet engine, pushing it in the opposite direction.

PLAN AHEAD

I don’t know what cows think about, but I doubt it is stuff like, ‘I wish I had an opposable thumb, so I could bust out of here and build myself a proper barn. With a view.’ Animals, so far as I know, just can’t imagine causes and effects the way we can, which is why we milk them and not the other way around.

But for all our astounding ability to imagine possibilities and then achieve them – only the self-making bed and time travel seem permanently beyond our grasp – it is amazing how short-sighted we are.

  • In 1974, with OPEC quadrupling the price of oil and the Shah saying it should be $100 a barrel – that oil was way too precious to be burned as fuel – we could have imposed an annual dime-a-gallon escalation in the tax (every penny slated to lower the income tax), thus giving us $4 a gallon gas by 2008 (we got it anyway) – and an automotive fleet that averaged 80 miles to the gallon and an automotive industry that led the world. But we just figured (to the extent anyone did any figuring) we’d leave the pain to our children and grandchildren. We love them, but not enough to pay more for gas.
  • Levees in New Orleans? Here‘s my column from April 20, 2001 (‘Are Your Ready for the Flood?’) four and a half years before Katrina. It was widely known a disaster was coming (albeit not when), but we just couldn’t get off our butts and strengthen the levees. (Here‘s Maureen Dowd’s column four years later, after it did come.)
  • Iraq? Our ‘thinking ahead,’ past shock and awe, was non-existent. That lack of planning significantly damaged our prosperity and security and that of our kids and grandkids.

So now, in 2043 – when your 2-year-old daughter or grandson will be 37, with a family of his or her own – someone on one of the continents that has survived the initial impact will look back and write a column lamenting the impending planetary starvation (a three-year winter will do that) and railing against the short-sighted, selfish people in 2008 who failed to fund a project that, by 2043, could very likely have detected – and diverted – the Near Earth Object that did our species in.

The good news is that this November could just be the kind of transformative election that opens us up to a wiser decisions across a host of fronts, including this one. We just might get ourselves an Administration that respects science and believes there are some problems government has a role in solving. Folks in 2043 just might watch on their TV walls as the big rock hurtles harmlessly past, 75,000 miles to our left.

OUR INTENTIONS ARE GOOD

Dianne and Greg:This was reprinted in our local paper. I think it is worthy of remembering that we do a lot of good things in the world also.’

☞ You can say that again! Not to belabor the point, but wouldn’t ‘leading a global initiative to detect and deflect incoming asteroids’ be one of them?

 

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