Oct 05 2008

Asteroid Threats — Rusty's Call for A Global Response

Earth’s greatest hits don’t just include “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets; most actually cosiderably predate him, such as the the 6 mile-wide asteroid that took out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and even the 1908 Tunguska impact in Siberia where a 5 megaton explosion leveled 2,000 square miles of forest.

Tunguska-size events — caused by an object one half the length of an American football field — may occur every few centuries or so but when they do, can dramatically impact regional agriculture possibly triggering famine. Our current knowledge of possible future impacts includes Asteroid 99942 Apophis which has a small probability of hitting in 2036 but would produce a 500 megaton explosion — about 10 times larger than the largest H bomb ever tested — and unimaginable destruction. And astronomers estimate that over the next 15 years, several dozen Near Earth Objects (NEOs) will be discovered that could produce local or regional devastation on Earth.

Because, given enough warning time, we are far from helpless against such gobal threats, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart and the Association of Space Explorers International Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation recently (9/25/08) recommended to the United Nations the establishment of a global organization to “assist the international community in preventing loss of life and property” from space impactors.

After detecting a potentially threatening NEO, questions will arise about what nations are at risk and who should be evacuated, if and how the NEO should be deflected, and who is authorized to make mitigation decisions with accompanying liability and financial responsibility. In all cases, “timely adoption of a decision-making program is essential to enabling effective action.”

Schweickart suggests that within 10 -15 years, an international Mission Authorization and Oversight Group could develop policies and procedures and eventually make recommendations about any looming NEO threats to the United Nations Security Council for action.

Assuming the United Nations proves to be the appropriate entity for this type of responsibility, this global asteroid organization might eventually expand into non-asteroid space functions until it becomes a truly global space agency, similar to our Interspace model (see also TWTW). Another possibility is that by the 2015 Maslow Window, an Interspace-type global organization might become the centerpiece of a Grand Alliance for Space, in which the major international space powers cooperate peacefully and productively in the colonization of space. In this case, Rusty’s global asteroid mitigation group would be a natural outgrowth of the Grand Alliance.

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