Jul 30th 2010 By Tommy ChristopherThe approach of the year 2012, the latest in a series of predicted Ends of the World As We Know It, really didn't have us all that worried. After all, we've been burned before. (Y2K, anyone?)
Then, we saw a new bill introduced by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) that proposes the establishment of a United States Commission on Planetary Defense to help protect Earth from the kind of catastrophic impact illustrated here by freakin' NASA.
Should we be worried? Is the sky falling? Will the commission include Bruce Willis and/or Morgan Freeman? Is it time to get an End Times condo?!?
Keep reading to find out what Congressman Rohrabacher told Asylum, which made our blood run cold.
NASA already spends $4 million a year to search for near-Earth objects (NEO), which the National Academy of Science defines thus: an asteroid or comet whose orbit approaches Earth's orbit to within about one-third the average distance of Earth from the Sun.
The Planetary Defense Commission will study ways to detect and neutralize deadly threats from above, and Rohrabacher says it's just the latest in his years-long quest to identify and protect humanity from NEOs. Previously, he introduced legislation to create the Pete Conrad Astronomy Awards, which honor amateur galaxy-gazers who've discovered NEOs.
Nuclear Explosives vs. Tractor Beams
"Films like 'Deep Impact' and 'Armageddon' are great entertainment," Rohrabacher says, "and they did cause many people, myself included, to start asking serious scientific questions about how real this threat is, and what we are doing to protect ourselves. Do we have the ability to protect ourselves from something that is known to have wiped out thousands, if not millions, of species before? If we're not smart enough to protect ourselves as a species from a potential known threat, then going to the moon or inventing rail guns is meaningless."
According to Rohrabacher, the scenarios laid out in science-fiction movies are surprisingly impractical:
"Right now, the only way to deal with an impending large-scale impact event is through the use of nuclear explosives. And we're not sure it would work. We don't have space shuttles that can refuel and blast around the moon to catch an asteroid, dropping oil-rig drillers to plant the explosives. And we don't really know how these asteroids would respond to the explosions."
In perhaps the most tragic aspect of this story, it doesn't even look like we'll get any awesome hardware out of this deal. "I hate to disappoint you and your readers," the congressman says, "but we don't have any rail guns or space lasers that can do the job, and we're not really looking to build any either."
No, apparently, our best shot is to detect an object decades ahead of time, and use a tractor beam or a small explosion to slightly alter the path of the killer asteroid. It's hard to say whether that would be more awful as a movie or a video game.
The Next Death Star?
Of course, one man's NEO Neutralization Station is another man's Death Star. How would Congressman Rohrabacher assuage critics who might see this as a step toward the weaponization of space?
"I am in favor of America doing whatever is necessary to protect our nation and our way of life," Rohrabacher says. "Besides, these aren't weapons -- they're defenses. We cannot let political correctness or fear of being provocative prevent us from using our knowledge to protect ourselves. Do you think China really cares about international concerns about weapons in space?"
That might be a little awkward, considering that President Obama has repeatedly promised not to weaponize space. While an American Death Ray has its appeal, leaky, commie rush-jobs littering our atmosphere do not.
This also seems like a golden opportunity to get us ready for any extraterrestrial hostiles who might rear their ugly, possibly space-Nazi heads. Unfortunately, Rohrabacher's commission won't be dealing with sentient threats, or fishing for secret UFO documents from Roswell. "The commission is designed to tackle the clear threats that asteroids and comets pose to the earth. Its scope would be limited to helping humanity prepare for this threat."
Great. He just lost Dennis Kucinich.
Of course, just because the US is not ready to "deploy hardware" as stated above, does not mean others are not thinking of it:
- The Russian Citadel Nuclear System: http://www.tsi.lv/space/SGS1020_221%20-%2005.07.10/Adushkin/IAA-RACT%20C2%20S3-03.pdf
- Ideas for using Lasers: http://idisk.mac.com/crphipps-Public/Planetary_Defense.pdf