Sunday, March 18, 2007

Will We See it Coming? Soon Enough?

Last week NASA released a report titled "Near-Earth Object Survey and Deflection Analysis of Alternatives." The study is about how to destroy asteroids, or the like, that could impact with earth and cause the end of civilization. Nothing too critical. The release is discussed in an OpEd piece by Russell L. Sweickart, former Apollo astronaut, and the chairman of the B612 (powerful new vitamin?) Foundation, which promotes efforts to alter the orbits of asteroids. At least someone is on the case. Hear! Hear!

Here's the timing part that struck me as impossible for westerners to get their instant gratification around. This one paragraph is full of (unintended) humor.

"Two potential deflection techniques appear to work nicely together — first we would deflect the asteroid with kinetic impact from a missile (that is, running into it); then we would use the slight pull of a "gravity tractor" — a satellite that would hover near the asteroid — to fine-tune its new trajectory to our liking...To be effective, however, such missions would have to be launched 15 or even 30 years before a calculated impact."

Uh oh.

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