Monday, March 05, 2007

Approaching Disaster

Robert Boyd of McClatchy Newspaper's Washington bureau reports that "NASA and the Air Force are studying ways to ward off a large asteroid that will pass within 18,000 miles of Earth in 2029 and has a very slight chance of crashing into our planet in 2036."
Ideas include a "gravity tug" or "space tractor" that would hover near the asteroid and nudge it into a safe orbit. Other possibilities include a head-on collision with an unmanned spaceship or a nuclear explosion.
The asteroid was first spotted on June 19, 2004, and has been named "Apophis" after Apep, the ancient Egyptian god of destruction.

Okay. But why this news now? And what's it got to do with the Washington bureau of the excellent McClatchy news service?

The answer: This week, Washington is playing host to the annual Planetary Defense Conference, where astro-engineers enjoy scaring themselves with boogeymen from Outer Space and then dream up ways of defeating them. The boogeyman in chief?

NEO's. That's not "neo" as in "neocons," but as in Near Earth Objects.

The thing that's most worrisome as one peruses their carefully researched papers -- papers with titles like "Optimal Deflection of Hazardous Near-Earth Objects by Standoff Nuclear Detonation and NEO Mitigation Mission Design" -- is these are the same kind of minds that built the levees in New Orleans and assured everyone those would prevent disaster, too.

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