Recently, as I sat in the airport waiting for my flight to be delayed, I read a USA Today article titled: “Panel: NASA needs to do more to spot killer asteroids.” It caught my eye and, after looking up at the “departures” screen, I realized I had plenty of time to read it.
In 2005, Congress asked NASA to find 90% of all “potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids and comets.” To qualify for the “potentially hazardous” category, the asteroid or comet had to be about the size of home plate to centerfield, or large enough to concern Bruce Willis.
NASA’s result: They’ve located a whopping 15%.
Okay, we’re dropping the ball on everything space-related. We have space junk falling to Earth, astronauts flipping out and stalking us in diapers, and now, not only do we have killer asteroids (”killer” being a word that should concern you), but apparently it’s getting less attention than that wedding party that tried to dance down the aisle – and then, in front of millions of horrified television viewers, they did it again on the “Today Show.”
And 2009 is designated the “International Year of Astronomy.”
Irwin Shapiro of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics, the guy I want to sit next to during a math quiz, said that we have the capability to avoid a natural disaster, but the question is how much we’re prepared to invest in an insurance policy. Astronomers rate the odds of a civilization-threatening space impact at once in every 2 million years. (NASA astronomers, when asked that question, said: “Wow, that’s uh, that’s a lot!”
The chances of a smaller impact are rated once every two centuries, according to David Morrison of NASA’s Ames Research Center. (Do we add 85% to that?) The last one leveled 800 square miles of forest in 1909.
The article goes on to say that the CFA (the Harvard-Smithsonian guys) has a list of 1,060 “potentially hazardous” asteroids and comets on its list that pass within 4.5 million miles of Earth as they circle the sun.
Despite the 90% mandate, Congress has not appropriated new funds. What does that mean? NASA says: “Okay, we tagged the 15%, but without more money, we can’t get the rest. Better luck next time.”
Next time??!! This could be a case of Murphy’s Law, not only on steroids but also in hyperspace!
Have we focused our tunnel vision on what is and is not a clunker so much that we’re looking at the end of the Earth and we barely have time to notice?
Okay, 2009 is the year of the “Great Bailout.” I think I’d rather see GM hit the skids than take a Haymaker from Planet X. In some cases, even if an approaching asteroid misses earth by a few thousand miles, the explosive impact will be harder to endure than “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” which, if you’re reading from out of state, you should know that the show doesn’t really accurately portray the women of Atlanta that well. I mean, nobody is that dysfunctional — except in L.A.
Look, if it takes more money to get the other 85% of the “killer” asteroids identified, then pony up America! Get the girl scouts involved. They raise GAZILLIONS — from my neighborhood alone. (You should see the girl scout who comes to your home when your check bounces!)
Let’s salary-cap the baseball players for one year, let’s say at a million bucks, and leave the other billions to identify the “killer” asteroids! Did you catch the word “killer”? We would have enough money to identify the asteroids and, as added entertainment, we’d get to see the baseball players whine about how it’s not fair to them.
The bottom line: Find some way to pay what it takes! Rent the Hubble telescope and pay a few months in advance. Sponsor it! I’m sure that under these circumstances, the scientists wouldn’t mind a big “Hooter’s” logo on the side of it.
Get somebody up there and start looking! Meanwhile, tell Bruce Willis to clear his schedule!