Check out this Op-Ed in today's New York Times from Russell Schweickart, former astronaut and co-chair of the Task Force on Planetary Defense.
|The aftermath of the Tunguska Event, an impact from space in central Siberia.|
Asteroid defense is a subject that doesn't get nearly enough attention. Of course we don't want to alarm people, but at the same time, maybe people need to be a little more alarmed! That may be the only way to really see some action on this front.
When you think about it, it's sort of surprising that we don't devote more energy to asteroid defense. We actively scan the skies for near-Earth objects, but in terms of actually deflecting an asteroid from a collision, our plans at this point are only theoretical. It's surprising because it seems like we should be able to get everyone on board with this mission. For some people, space exploration is seen as an esoteric endeavor, lacking practical purpose. But what could be more practical than defending the planet from a clear and present danger? To me, asteroid defense should be much easier to rationalize than studying the geology of the Moon or sending astronauts to Mars.
The problem is that this is an issue that sounds fanciful. We've all seen Armageddon. You start talking about preventing an asteroid collision and everyone thinks about Bruce Willis flying up there to blow it up, with Aerosmith providing the soundtrack.
But we all know what happened to the dinosaurs. What's so far-fetched about an asteroid collision?