If You’re Trying to Prevent an Asteroid Impact, the Technical and Political Challenges are Staggering

Asteroids are out there, and some pose a threat to Earth. How will we react when we determine that one's coming for us? Credit: N. Bartmann (ESA/Webb), ESO/M. Kornmesser and S. Brunier, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)

While preparing for the threat of an asteroid strike might seem like a hypothetical exercise, it’s really not. The Solar System has calmed down a lot from earlier times when impacts were more frequent. But it is only a matter of time before an asteroid heads straight for Earth. The probability of an impact is not zero.

Equally as difficult as determining when one will come for us is the task of getting humanity to cooperate and prepare for it.

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The Outer Space Treaty was Signed in 1967. Can it Handle the Future of Space Exploration?

Artist rendition of a future mining outpost on the Moon. (Credit: NASA/SAIC/Pat Rawlings)

In a recent study submitted to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society for the 8th Interstellar Symposium special issue, which is due for publication sometime in 2024, Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra, who is a senior research investigator and the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, examines how future space exploration governing laws could evolve, either crewed or uncrewed and in the solar system or beyond. He views this study as an expansion of interplanetary governance models he previously discussed in his book, Sovereign Mars, to explore potential limits on space governance at interstellar distances.

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Blast it Wedge, We’re Not Getting a Death Star

The Death Star in Star Wars. Credit: Lucasfilm.

Well, it’s official. The Obama Administration has said no to a petition asking the US government to build a Death Star. On the “We the People” petition site, if a petition gets 25,000 people to sign, the Obama administration has promised to reply. There have been some really crazy petitions put forth – one person wanted to be named emperor, another wanted a statue built – but there have been some creative and meaningful petitions as well. Then there’s the petition to “Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” Creative… yes. Meaningful? Probably not, but it certainly got a lot of attention.

And Paul Shawcross, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, who replied to this petition, did right by Star Wars and sci-fi fans, and in an imaginative and inspiring way.

Titled “This isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For,” Shawcross’s response said the real reasons we won’t get a Death Star is because:
1. The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
2. The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
3. Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

He outlined how we already have a space station, a laser-wielding robot on Mars, and are discovering hundreds of new planets orbiting other stars.

“We are living in the future! Enjoy it,” Shawcross wrote. “Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field…. If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

There’s still time to sign the petition for looking into building a working version of the Starship Enterprise; right not that petition has just over 6,000 signatures.

Late addition:

Via StarWars.com comes the news that evil Empire has posted a response to the White House’s decision not to build a Death Star:

IMPERIAL CENTER, CORUSCANT – The overwhelming military superiority of the Galactic Empire has been confirmed once again by the recent announcement by the President of the United States that his nation would not attempt to build a Death Star, despite the bellicose demands of the people of his tiny, aggressive planet. “It is doubtless that such a technological terror in the hands of so primitive a world would be used to upset the peace and sanctity of the citizens of the Galactic Empire,” said Governor Wilhuff Tarkin of the Outer Rim Territories. “Such destructive power can only be wielded to protect and defend by so enlightened a leader as Emperor Palpatine.”
Representatives on behalf of the nation-state leader from the unimaginatively named planet refused to acknowledge the obvious cowardice of their choice, preferring instead to attribute the decision to fiscal responsibility. “The costs of construction they cited were ridiculously overestimated, though I suppose we must keep in mind that this miniscule planet does not have our massive means of production,” added Admiral Conan Motti of the Imperial Starfleet.

Emissaries of the Emperor also caution any seditious elements within the Galactic Senate not to believe Earth’s exaggerated claims of there being a weakness in the Death Star design. “Any attacks made upon such a station – should one ever be built – would be a useless gesture,” added Motti.

This article was updated on January 15, 2013.