31 May 2008

Near Earth

The Atlantic's June issue also contains an alarming story by Gregg Easterbrook on the threat of large asteroids and comets striking Earth in ways that could end human civilization or even the human species.

The most alarming part for me wasn't the science that suggests the probability of such an event is higher than people have thought, but the complacent comments from the Bush-Cheney administration's NASA head. He manages both to blame Congress for leaving "near-Earth objects" off NASA's priorities and to say that those priorities are exactly right, "the finest policy framework...in 40 years."

There are a couple of fantasy-literature connections in the article. I suspect that because an approaching space object was the premise of two "big summer blockbuster movies" a few years ago (Deep Impact and Armaggedon), lots of people have mentally filed this threat in the area of science fiction. The Atlantic and Easterbrook have their own, low-budget movie to watch on the web, which makes the same point.

The astronaut Rusty Schweikart, one of the most visionary people to have flown in space, leads the B612 Foundation with the goal "To significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid, in a controlled manner, by 2015." The article explains that deflecting an asteroid seems feasible with current technology (comets are another matter), and being ready to do so might be the difference between life as we know it and, well, not.

And the other children's literature connection? The name B612 alludes to the Little Prince's near-Earth asteroid, pictured in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book. (Image above from the fan site B612.net.)

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