NYT op-ed: nuke the asteroids!

More sinister propaganda on the New York Times op-ed page March 16, this time from Russell L. Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut and chairman of the B612 Foundation, "which promotes efforts to alter the orbits of asteroids." Entitled "The Sky is Falling. Really.," the piece warns that there is a one-in-45,000 chance (gasp!) that an 850-foot asteroid called Apophis could collide with the Earth "with catastrophic consequences" on April 13, 2036. As we have noted before, these supposed efforts to save the Earth from rogue asteroids are really a transparent ploy to find a new rationale for nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era. It seems to us nuclear weapons have far greater potential to destroy the planet than a rogue asteroid. Talk about creating what you fear!

This is part of a disturbing trend. On February 20, Carolyn Porco, leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission, had a Times op-ed, "At Long, Long Last, NASA Goes Deep," which argued for manned inter-planetary space flight on giant rockets like the Saturn V, which was abandoned by NASA in favor of the Space Shuttles after the Apollo program. Ironically, in an effort to appeal to touchy-feely liberals, Porco writes of her envisioned thurst to colonize the heavens:

This won't be a space race so much as a global exodus undertaken by an international community. And peaceful cooperation among nations, as a tangible means to build strong lasting international partnerships and defuse tensions and conflicts in the future, will be a welcome result.

Bunk. Even in its most benign guise, space colonization will mean a race for interplanetary resource exploitation—which, if you note, has had a habit of sparking wars down here on Earth. It would also mean exporting throughout the solar system the ethic of wring-it-dry-and-move-on exploitation that has made such a mess of our home planet—the ultimate manifestation of industrial nomadism.

But the chaos and resource-depletion down here on terra firma may serve as a break on space imperialism, rather than an impetus for it. Our reader and fellow space-skeptic Robbie Liben—a veteran of the National Science Foundation base at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica—writes:

I take comfort that there is probably not much future for space travel... Our comforts in Antarctica blind us to just how precarious that existence is. The space program, like the Antarctic program, is predicated on abundant, cheap oil. As soon as that changes, these remote outposts will cease to exist. And it can happen fast. Recall that there was a Russian cosmonaut in space when the Soviet Union collapsed. It took the folks on the ground quite a long time to get the wherewithal to get him back. Imagine colonies of hundreds or thousands on the moon or Mars stranded by events here. The edge is always closer than it seems.

See our last post on the space geeks.

From the horse's mouth...

A May 13, 2004 story from NASA's own website notes that the asteroid, then referred to as 2004MN4, will come pretty close to Earth (18,000 miles) in 2029. Such a close pass will significantly alter its trajectory, and some fear that it will come back seven years later and hit the earth. According to NASA:

Some newspapers have stated that the asteroid might swing around and hit Earth after all in 2035 or so, but [Jon] Giorgini [of Jet Propulsion Laboratories] discounts that: "Our ability to 'see' where 2004 MN4 will go (by extrapolating its orbit) is so blurred out by the 2029 Earth encounter, it can't even be said for certain what side of the sun 2004 MN4 will be on in 2035. Talk of Earth encounters in 2035 is premature."


Asteroid menace strikes again

AFP reports July 28 that a new asteroid has been discovered—sharing the Earth's orbit around the sun. The so-called "Trojan" asteroid (meaning one that shares a planet's orbit) is officially dubbed 2010 TK7, and we are told not to worry:

But this asteroid is keeping its distance: its orbit is "stable for at least 1,000 years", says Connors, and it won't be coming nearer than 24 million kilometres (15 million miles) from Earth over the next 100 years, says NASA.

But it is a mere matter of time before the space geeks are calling for blowing it out of the sky with nuclear weapons. Let's start the countdown to the propaganda liftoff...