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NASA Making Plans To Save the Earth 226

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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  • Re:Trust Man (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:41AM (#16901860)
    There are some who take responsibility for the world that they live in and others who just hope that everything will work out. Good on those in column a, for those in column b just do everyone a favour and don't get in the way. BTW I think it is worth mentioning that we are likely to kill each other long before an asteroid wipes us out but hey, better safe than sorry right?
  • Look for... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:42AM (#16901866) Homepage Journal
    ...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 Earth) technologies that will only have a very loose connection to the missions. This is just a huge money grab and not about the advancement of science or discovery.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by noigmn ( 929935 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:12AM (#16902016)
    Now all we need is an asteroid for them to save us from.
  • by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:14AM (#16902024) Homepage
    Humans are infinitely re-programmable.
  • by Memnos ( 937795 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:20AM (#16902052) Journal
    Perhaps more useful might be steering comets. It's a bigger challenge but they have lots of H2O
  • Worst Movie Ever! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:37AM (#16902114) Journal
    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 possible today, and yet requires a complete disposal of all scientific knowledge.

    In college I took a course on science and communication - how we try, and often fail, to explain science and technology to the public. One homework assignment was to watch the movie Armaggedeon and describe the ways they get it wrong. The "it" here includes:

    * physics (it actually takes days to go from earth to the moon - even then it took the Saturn V rocket to get the relatively small Apollo LM/CSM craft that far. Oh, and the old favorite, that there's lots of things to hear in space.),
    * propulsion technology (the notion that a space station has a propulsion system capable of generating 1 g of continuous acceleration, or that the shuttle's engines can produce several g's of acceleration all on their own),
    * engineering (that you could build a space station that wouldn't collapse under 1 g of acceleration),
    * medicine (that space dementia is a likely condition, resulting in careless manslaughter behavior),
    * probability (that out of the total surface of the earth, the only places that get struck are NYC, Paris, and Hong Kong (?)),
    * astronomy (that, up close, asteroids seem to be made of very brittle stalagmites of rock, and spew radioactive-looking gas).

    Science in general. This was a film seen by millions of people - it is probably the first thing most people think about when the subject of asteroids comes up. It's well for Carl Sagan that he was already deceased - the notion that such a movie existed would have killed him. Armaggedon's contemporary, Deep Impact, was more plausible and realistic, if you can get past Elija Wood being a teenager. Alas, it tanked.

    I gave up after filling 10 pages with the first hour of the movie - it was too painful to continue.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @01:43AM (#16902146)
    There is a rock halfway between here & japan called Midway. You may have heard of it.

    I propose that we build a seaport on Midway to make it easier to get to Japan.

    That is roughly analogous to putting a base on the Moon as means to get to Mars.

    Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:06AM (#16902240) Homepage
    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!

    Actually - that's pretty sad to hear. Because it means however many classes you've 'taught' this material now go forth into the world more ignorant of asteroid diversion as they were when they came into your classroom. Why? Because you've utterly mislead them about how it works, as your brief description above contains multiple errors.
    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? We'll see that in the next error.)
    Lastly the size of the bomb on Earth is nearly irrelevant. The effects of the bomb that we interpret as yield are a direct result of the interaction of the energy (various forms of radiation) released from the bomb with the atmosphere. This is why, by the way, you detonate the bomb away from the asteroid, that energy now interacts with the surface of the asteroid across a broad area - evaporating it and providing the thrust (via Newton's 3rd law) as the evaporated material moves away from the asteroid. (Probably using a bomb with a shaped case to direct the X-rays from the bomb towards the asteroid, much like an Orion [] pulse unit. Or you could use such a pulse unit directly.)
    I love sci-fi movies and like to give my students problems from popular films that illustrate the absurdity of Hollywood stories.

    At least in this example - I would not be too proud. You've merely substituted your own absurdity for Hollywood's.
  • I can hear it now. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EonBlueApocalypse ( 1029220 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:08AM (#16902254)
    "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."
  • 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: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 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 aevan ( 903814 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:55AM (#16902416)
    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? We'll see that in the next error.),

    Which has what to do with them burying a nuke 800 meters under the surface (as per the movie), detonating it less than a month out? He's modeling the movie, where it starts off only 18 days away from lessen the time window by the training,travel etc the rest of the movie showed. They used oil drillers to drill down for the bomb placement...

    The flaws you point in his example however are the flaws they made in the movie. You said he's doing it wrong, ergo the movie did it wrong, which was his point?
  • by deoxyribonucleose ( 993319 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @06:49AM (#16903126)
    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 nukes into space!), what was impossible 80 years ago became possible as stunts for major governments 50 years ago, commercial propositions 25 years ago, and the playground of billionaires and even mere dirt-poor multi-millionaires today. If we were to dump our technical know-how back in time onto the Victorians, they still wouldn't have been able to afford building and operating commercial airplanes -- they just weren't rich enough for the infrastructure. That took a number of decades to roll out.

    However, while I think you're wrong in specifics, I agree that automated solutions (despite all the shortcomings of IT) will be cost effective much sooner than all the infrastructure necessary to support huge protoplasmic bags of water and impurities such as yours truly. But nature abhors a vacuum (and we kinda like it!) -- where it's possible to go, someone will, eventually, if only through Brownian motion!
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @10:47AM (#16903928)
    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).

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.