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NASA Making Plans To Save the Earth 226

Posted by kdawson
from the deep-armageddon dept.
aluminumangel writes, "Taking a page out of a Michael Bay movie, NASA is considering a manned mission to land on an asteroid, 'poke one with a stick,' and see how feasible it would be to deflect it from its course. Obviously, the application would be valuable in a doomsday situation and hopefully could keep us from going wherever the dinosaurs went." The article makes oblique reference to another goal such a mission could serve: giving us something to do in space, something to engage the paying public, between the time we return to the Moon and the time we get to Mars.
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NASA Making Plans To Save the Earth

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:29AM (#16901802)
    If this means finally launching Ben Affleck into space, I'm all for it.
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:34AM (#16901830) Journal
    They really need to hurry, Bruce Willis isn't getting any younger!
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:34AM (#16901832)
    If we can good at altering asteroid's paths, we could use near earth asteroids as ramming tools. We should ram a few into the same spot on Mars and get a nice deep crater. We get practice diverting asteroids and learn more about deeper martain soil.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Memnos (937795)
      Perhaps more useful might be steering comets. It's a bigger challenge but they have lots of H2O
    • Not really (Score:4, Insightful)

      by phorm (591458) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:12AM (#16902278) Journal
      Deflecting something from a particular course is likley a lot easier than setting it on to a specific new course. All you need is a big enough push (or bigger) to ensure it missing hitting (for example) Earth. Now to have it hit a particular target, you would need much more exact placing and timing of an explosion/rocket/etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      If we can good at altering asteroid's paths, we could use near earth asteroids as ramming tools.
      I feel a James Bond movie plot coming on. (If not a DARPA research program).
    • You do realize that it's not just Mars that would get rammed... "Hello, India? China? This is the U.S.A. calling. We'd like you to know that your days as rival nuclear powers were really cool and all, but now we've got a nuke you can't match. Maybe you should have invested more in your space programs back in the Naughty Aughties." Bring it in right and the warning threshold will be about 10 seconds.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm a fan of space and staying busy till the end times come, don't get me wrong, but what can poking a comet tell us that we wouldn't be able to figure out using the known laws of physics and, you know, science and stuff....
    • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:42AM (#16901862)
      In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.

      In practice, however......
    • by guardiangod (880192) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:35AM (#16902372)
      Scientific method -

      1. Define the question
      2. Gather information and resources
      3. Form hypothesis
      4. Perform experiment and collect data
      5. Analyze data
      6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses
      7. Publish results

      Without collecting data, all you get is something akin to String Theory - could be true, could be false, no one knows.
    • by Kaboom13 (235759)
      Your confusing a science problem and an engineering problem. Calculating the force you need to deflect the asteroid is (relatively) simple, figuring out the way to get something capable of doing that into space, getting it to intercept the asteroid, getting it to apply that force correctly, etc. is a difficult engineering problem, and something we've never really done before. Just like landing on the moon was a lot more complicated then calculating the trajectory to get us there. Engineering requires tes
  • Look for... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eno2001 (527078)
    ...lots of big companies to get LOTS of money from NASA and the U.S. military for developing more and more technologies that won't actually be used at all in any flights to the moon or mars. I also expect to see either no flight to Mars, or one that falls far short of what is being planned today at best. At worst I expect to see quite a few lost lives within the first five to ten flights to/from Mars. Why? Because I expect that most of the money is going to be spent on developing PROFITABLE (here on Ear
  • by jginspace (678908) <jginspace.yahoo@com> on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:45AM (#16901878) Homepage Journal
    ...from the original [slashdot.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:48AM (#16901886)
    As an exercise for my high-school physics students studying energy and momentum conservation, I had them run the numbers on the scenario from the movie "Armageddon" for an asteroid "the size of Texas", taking this to mean in separate cases the area of Texas with a range of densities, etc.

    Giving the astronauts every benefit of the doubt (able to intercept it twice as far out as they did in the movie, bomb able to be placed at the center of mass, the bomb having ten times the yield of largest nuke ever exploded by man, perfectly elastic explosion, etc. etc. etc.) they not only couldn't make the asteroid miss the Earth, they would only have changed impact points by about a meter!

    I love sci-fi movies and like to give my students problems from popular films that illustrate the absurdity of Hollywood stories.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      the bomb having ten times the yield of largest nuke ever exploded by man,

      Not to mention the simple fact that most of the destructive power of a nuclear weapon is actually caused by a wave-front of superheated air moving away from the center of the blast. Air is something quite scarce in space, however. You can't impart such kinetic energy to rock, however. Oh you could probably melt the center of this rock, but it would just cool again. Or you could shatter it, and have lots of tiny a
      • The difference with having thousands of tiny asteroids is that due to the incresed surface area, they would burn up in the atmosphere. Likewise, once the tiny asteroids break apart, they're doing to drift in various directions, resulting in a much wider area of impact.

        This, I think, would be survivable (never mind the improbability of an asteroid "the size of texas")
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Dunbal (464142)
          The difference with having thousands of tiny asteroids is that due to the incresed surface area, they would burn up in the atmosphere.

          I don't agree. If you have enough tiny asteroids, you are going to heat up the atmosphere, which lowers its density, which makes it less efficient at stopping all the other little asteroids. The first ones will burn up. The last ones will hit the ground. And you'll have a lot of superheated air to deal with. The amount of energy remains the same, and ear
          • The first ones will burn up. The last ones will hit the ground.

            True, but this same effect happens with a larger asteroid--it enters the earth's atmosphere and loses a lot of velocity due to drag, and a lot of mass due to vaporization from the heat of friction. The overall kinetic energy is severely diminished by the time it hits the ground, which is when we calculate the impact effects. So the important question is: does a single large object or a cloud of smaller objects get slowed down and vaporized mo
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dangitman (862676)
      What if you used a really big ball of garbage?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      As an exercise for my high-school physics students studying energy and momentum conservation, I had them run the numbers on the scenario from the movie "Armageddon" for an asteroid "the size of Texas", taking this to mean in separate cases the area of Texas with a range of densities, etc.

      Giving the astronauts every benefit of the doubt (able to intercept it twice as far out as they did in the movie, bomb able to be placed at the center of mass, the bomb having ten times the yield of largest nuke eve

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by aevan (903814)

        Your first error - it matters very much when you apply the differential force. Sure, doing it at the last moment won't move the impact point much - duh. In real life, you perform the diversion months, or years before the impact - and orbital mechanics dictates that it doesn't actually take much force (proportionally) to make a huge difference in the impact point over time.

        The second error is that you don't bury the bomb in the asteroid - you detonate it at a point some distance over the asteroid. (Why?

    • Why so large? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd (1658)
      There was an article on Slashdot a while back on a new crater discovered in Antarctica. It was a couple hundred miles across and was believed associated in some way to the Great Extinction. Well, there's a neat website that lets you calculate the size of crater and damage done for a given size of asteroid. It took a while to find one that would produce the crater observed that would have a combination of speed and size that would leave anything left alive at all, let alone 5%-10% of the biomass.

      My crude rev

  • Weaponized! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plopez (54068) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:48AM (#16901896) Journal
    If you can divert it, you can steer it. If you can steer it you can target an area on the planet.

    Take out a major city, no radiation. Just the threat would be a useful tool of terror and control.

    • Huge amount of fallout though, non radioactive, but not localized at all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Shihar (153932)
      If you want to destroy a city, just carpet bomb it. Blowing up cities is easy. The point is that any nation that has the ability to move an asteroid (read that as the US, the US, and the US) already has the ability to wipe out cities at will. At the stupidly insane cost of moving an asteroid, you might as well just build a few thousand cruise missiles and level the city that way. The only use moving asteroids has is for mining purposes and throwing at planets in an effort to drop some water on it (and e
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Who235 (959706)

        he point is that any nation that has the ability to move an asteroid (read that as the US, the US, and the US) already has the ability to wipe out cities at will. At the stupidly insane cost of moving an asteroid, you might as well just build a few thousand cruise missiles and level the city that way.

        You're missing the point.

        Cruise missiles, unlike asteroids, have no super-villain street cred. Hurling giant space rocks at people displays a lot more panache.

        That's like saying anyone who can build a weather

    • Re:Weaponized! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xiroth (917768) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:18AM (#16902306)
      On the other hand, if you could steer it into Earth's orbit you might be able to mine a ridiculous amount of valuable material from it. As someone interested in orbital megastructures, this is one of the big steps. Of course, there's a few more - see if these don't sound like interesting challenges:
      1. Finding some way to extract the ore.
      2. Getting a refinary set up in space.
      3. Creating construction robots that can use the processed materials to build the structure.

      Should be interesting if/when someone tries this.
    • by Skidge (316075) * on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:20AM (#16902310) Homepage
      Take out a major city, no radiation. Just the threat would be a useful tool of terror and control.


      Shhh. Don't say things like that, or they won't let us take our asteroids on airplanes anymore.
    • Take out a major city, no radiation. Just the threat would be a useful tool of terror and control.

      Who would spend billions of dollars to divert a rock in space (with all the uncertanty that goes with it) to attack a country when they could spend vastly less and do a better job with conventional weapons? I mean, besides the brain bugs? Want to know more? [wikipedia.org]

      -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]

      • by ColaMan (37550)
        Because you can make it look like an accident. That is, if you can cover up a billion dollar project to divert it to the right spot. You would probably have to make a few small course corrections en-route, and a final one relatively close to impact. And if you're using nukes to do that, well, it's probably going to be noticeable to some alert astronomer.

        But if you can keep it quiet - and you'd really want to do that - then you've got the world by the balls, and they wouldn't even know it.

        "Well, damn! We we
        • Because you can make it look like an accident.
          More importantly, the Asgard can't pin it on you and therefore can't help due to the Protected Planets Treaty.
    • by lixee (863589)
      Take out a major city, no radiation. Just the threat would be a useful tool of terror and control.
      Yeah, like the US doesn't instil enough terror. And don't get me started on the nuclear arsenal...
    • by couchslug (175151)
      "Just the threat would be a useful tool of terror and control."

      Against clueless tinfoil-hatters who modded this up...
      WTF people? This is a geek forum so how dare you not have clues to how technology works?

      The massive dust plume would still pose a huge environmental threat. Think Tunguska.
      The asteroid diversion would cost more than a nuke and be far more difficult to use.
      Asteroid diversion lacks an immediate launch capability.
      The only countries potentially capable of asteroid diversion already have nukes.

      Tac
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      That is what I thought too. I saw brucewillis tag, and thought back: "nah. Nope. Dr. Evil".
    • by dodobh (65811)
      No big deal. Just ask Adam Selene to help you.
  • Itsatrap! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:52AM (#16901910)
    If ever a story deserved an "itsatrap" tag, this story is one of them. Who can say what the result would be? It could have unintended consequences.

    I hope they pick a small asteroid to test on.
  • Moving an asteroid means landing an engine on the thing and firing it. That doesn't require people. If you send people, you have to send all that extra mass for life support, a return vehicle, and return fuel. Which cuts into the fuel for moving the asteroid. So sending people is a lose.

  • thank god! (Score:3, Funny)

    by TheWart (700842) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:02AM (#16901948)
    phew, I feel safer knowing that Michael Bay's movies are the blueprint for saving the world. At least I can rest easy tonight.
    • Worst Movie Ever! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by necro81 (917438)
      Leaving aside the horrible acting in Armaggedon, the portrayal of reality in that movie is atrocious! There are different levels of science fiction, requiring differing levels of suspended disbelief. It runs the gamut from Star Wars, where things like hyperdrive and lightsabers are somehow possible, to Star Trek, some of which could be possible in the 24th century, to 2001, which definitely could have taken place in 2001. This movie seems to exist somewhere inbetween - it wants to come off as being possi
      • by houghi (78078)
        This migyt come as a shocker, but movies are generaly not real. If they are trying to be real, they tend to be documentaries. So get a life and some imagination.

        That is the reason I watch movies, because they are NOT real.
      • But now I actually have to see this movie. Something that bad has to be good, or something like that.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:02AM (#16901950) Homepage Journal

    FromTFA:

    The proposals are at an early stage, and a spacecraft needed just to send an astronaut that far into space exists only on the drawing board

    Actually the apollo stack (SM, CM, LM ascent and descent stages) had easily enough velocity budget to fly to and return from some near Earth asteroids. It didn't have the consumables to do it but that could have been launched separately. You get more redundancy that way.

    Of course we don't have the apollo CM, which is the only spacecraft in existance which could make a high speed return from an asteroid and reenter the atmosphere, but we will have the CRV which should have similar capabilities. The saturn 5 launch system doesn't exist either and thats the part of this system which is really vapourware.

    Anyway good luck to them. Mars has been held off for so long because it is so much more risky and difficult than the moon. Asteroids offer progressively harder challenges, minus the risk of sudden death landing a heavy vehicle on mars.

  • by noigmn (929935) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:12AM (#16902016)
    Now all we need is an asteroid for them to save us from.
  • That must be an awfully long stick.
  • Several thoughts (Score:2, Informative)

    by WindBourne (631190)
    1. We should be sending several automated system to do this, not a human crew. Much cheaper and easier.
    2. Why send the asteroid elsewhere? If it is going to hit Earth, put it into orbit. If it is big enough to worry about, then it must be a good size chunk of metal. We can mine it.
    3. One of the more useful uses for this is to send asteroids into Mars. Not the metal kind, but one based on organics. There are a number of them out there that are composed of Water, Ammonia or even of methane. These would be great to
    • by DrEasy (559739)
      Maybe somebody that we should be thankful to pulled a #3 on our planet a long long time ago? ;-)
  • Dinosaurs (Score:4, Funny)

    by GodInHell (258915) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:32AM (#16902094) Homepage
    Technically, the dinosaurs didn't go anywhere. They just shrunk and grew feathers.. we know grow them in factory farms and eat them by the pound at Chik-Fil-A.

    (That and worship our them as our yellow masters through PBS.)

    -GiH
    • Technically, the dinosaurs didn't go anywhere. They just shrunk and grew feathers.. we know grow them in factory farms and eat them by the pound at Chik-Fil-A.
      Umm...are you trying to tell me that Tyrannosaurus Rex tastes like CHICKEN?
  • by themindfantastic (1025938) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:40AM (#16902126)
    Hey you will go screwing up all those astrologists and their predictions if you start moving crap around! Think of the ASTROLOGISTS!!!!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg (145172)
      Think of the ASTROLOGISTS!!!!!

      I am thinking of them. I'm thinking of poking them with a stick until they deflect from their course. I really like the idea of lots of little pokes, but if that doesn't do the trick I'm perfectly willing to blow 'em up, real good.
  • I for one welcome the uprising against the new asteroid overlords.
  • "And in other news a freak accident has sent an asteroid involved in a mock doomsday mission hurdling towards Earth. How will this affect your weekend? Stay tuned for Tom and his weekend weather forecast."
  • It's not so bad. You can be a fossil fuel 35 million years from now when the apes rule the Earth!
  • 1. We probably won't get back to the moon.

    2. We are NOT going to go to Mars.

    3. We are NOT going to send PEOPLE to a fucking asteroid.

    Why?

    It's all very simple: money, energy, and need.

    1. The only thing on the moon that's worth a flying fuck is He3. However, even with all the possibilities of enormous electricity provided from He3 reactors here on terra firma, building and decommissioning the reactors, AND mining the crap out of the moon's regolith will pretty much blow it's ER/EI ratio to pieces. Also,

    • Yeah, right. And heavier-than-air flying machines won't work, and if they did, they'd be much too expensive and dangerous for anyone.

      You're dead on when considering the current state and economics of technology -- going to the Moon may be (and going Mars is certainly) too expensive for a sustained effort. Right now. However, with the parallel progress in any number of fields, such as materials science, computer aided design and simulation, energy related technologies (let's get some really efficient nuke
  • Most went into the oil business, and the rest became COBOL programmers.
  • Live at least another 60 years, till I'm 100, and then wait for Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susanne will to be considered "the masters."
  • I originally came up with this idea thinking that robots should carry it out but it could also be performed by a manned mission.

    Novel method for changing orbit of small planetary body (asteroid/comet).

    Abstract: Using a tethered "sling" to release pieces of a small planetary body, a small (inexpensive) payload delivered to a body rotating at a sufficient rate can effectively convert the body's rotational energy into directed kinetic energy. The tether, which may be attached to said body via cables or netting
    • by 2short (466733)
      I find your ideas interesting and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

      In the next issue, perhaps you could discuss how many asteroids you imagine have geosyncronous orbit distances outside their own surfaces.

      You seem to have given a lot of thought to the details of the implementation, and not much to the basic theory. The total rotation enrgy of most bodies is not going to be enough to significantly effect their orbits until you've throw almost all of their mass back the other way, at which point, why not
  • As much as people may criticize this, I have to say it's the most useful thing we could possibly do with space technology. I can't think of any better investment the NASA or the ESA could make than safeguarding our future. Going to Mars is, in my opinion, a huge waste of money. But deflecting asteroids that could take out a city, or worse, is worth trillions of dollars in investment - no exaggeration.
  • I say capture the bastards and put 'em in Earth's Trojan Points! Need water? Capture a comet (uh, better bag that first. Paper or plastic, what a question...). Need iron? Plenty of it floating around. Need raw material for a space station? Hollow out a rocky asteroid.

    What we have is not a failure of technology. What we have is a failure of imagination. *sigh*
  • Nothing we have any science to support suggests that the Earth is facing danger within the next million years. The people on it, however, could be in danger from such things. The Earth itself, however, is not sentient and thus does not care. We are just the latest dominant species to make a mess of the place and for all that the mess is remarkably large, we are a small and recent footnote overall. This fairly short period of what we consider reasonable weather won't last any more than any other narrow
  • Can saving the world wait until they save the got-damn cheerleader first? It's been like five episodes already and I'm sick of that catch phrase!
  • If Apophis is a threat, send SG-1

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