Congress, NASA

Don’t send Bruce Willis to do a robot’s job

The Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee hearing last Wednesday on “Assessing the Risks, Impacts, and Solutions for Space Threats” was seen by many as the Senate’s counterpart to a House Science Committee hearing the day before on the subject of threats posed by near Earth objects (NEOs). While it didn’t have the star power of the House hearing, which featured NASA administrator Charles Bolden and presidential science advisor John Holdren, the Senate hearing did include Jim Green, head of the planetary science division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, as well as Ed Lu, chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation, which is raising funding for Sentinel, a mission to look for NEOs.

In fact, the hearing went far beyond NEOs. The “space threats” considered during the hearing went beyond NEOs to include include orbital debris, geomagnetic storms, radiofrequency interference for communications satellites, reliability concerns among spacecraft and launch vehicles, and even the lack of awareness the public has about the importance space plays in modern society. The result was a hearing that, while perhaps informative for those who attended (although only two senators, subcommittee chairman Bill Nelson and new ranking member Ted Cruz, were present), didn’t break much new ground in terms of policy.

They did, though, try to give a boost to actor Bruce Willis’s career. After Nelson read the list of four witnesses testifying before the subcommittee, Cruz chimed in. “I will confess, given the topic today, disappointment that Bruce Willis was not available to be a fifth witness today on the panel,” he joked, referring to the actor’s role in the 1998 asteroid impact movie Armageddon.

Later, after the witnesses’ opening statements, Nelson went back to that earlier comment. “Maybe we ought to have Bruce Willis start doing another Armageddon movie to get everybody sensitized to the fact of how space could well play such a huge consequence in our lives if one of these asteroids starts coming towards us,” Nelson said (perhaps forgetting that Willis’s character, Harry Stamper, dies in Armageddon.) Cruz then chimed in. “There is probably no doubt that actually Hollywood has done more to focus attention on this issue than perhaps a thousand congressional hearings, although I would not wish a thousand congressional hearings on anyone.”

Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College, who testified about her concerns that space is not appreciated by the public, argued that movies like Armageddon did more harm than good with respect to raising public awareness. “What that movie did was basically convince the American public that if anything bad happened, people would get into the shuttle and go fix it,” she said. There needs to be more of an effort, she said, to get the facts about NEOs and the threats they pose to the public, and the ability—or inability—to deal with them. “The movie industry has really convinced much of the American public that we’re all over it, we can take care of it.”

Moreover, if there was any effort to try and deflect a threatening NEO, humans likely wouldn’t be flying to such an object. Asked by Nelson if NASA’s goal of a human asteroid mission by 2025 would be useful for mitigation activities, Lu said there there would be “great science” in such a mission, but it would be less relevant for deflecting asteroids. “I think likely the deflection mission that we have to mount someday—and we will have to, someday, we know that—is likely to be done robotically, just because the distances are quite large from the Earth,” he said. If only Harry Stamper had known that in 1998…

52 comments to Don’t send Bruce Willis to do a robot’s job

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    To me, Armageddon is the worst possible example to wave around because it gives a completely erroneous impression of NASA’s ability to respond to a crisis (we see a mission take shape in a matter of weeks or less, including somehow modifying Shuttle orbiters to operate BLEO). It also gives a completely false impression about how easy it would be to kill a rock “about the size of Texas”.

    To me, the earlier Deep Impact is more accurate in terms of the lead times necessary to deal with a large PHO and the sort of equipment needed. It’s just a shame that the film was generally so poorly received when it was probably more realistic in technical terms.

    If Armageddon was to be used at all, it would be to say to the American people: “We can’t do this, nor will we be able to do it for a very, very long time. If this sounds like a bad thing to you, pick up the ‘phone and talk to your Congresspersons as a matter of urgency!”

    • vulture4

      Technically the Shuttles are referred to in the movie as not being NASA shuttles but rather secret military craft with undisclosed capabilities.

  • common sense

    “What that movie did was basically convince the American public that if anything bad happened, people would get into the shuttle and go fix it,” she said.

    “The movie industry has really convinced much of the American public that we’re all over it, we can take care of it.”

    Really??? So now Hollywood is responsible for educating the US public on NEOs. No wonder why education keeps being slammed. Who needs education when Hollywood could do a great educational job about NEOs and make absolutely no money off of it? What are they thinking in lalaland?

    Yeah we might have benefited from Bruce Willis’s attendance. And remember the vehicles they flew in that movie to the asteroid. Oddly looking recycled Shuttle material – wink wink Sen. Nelson… Another use for SLS I guess.

    Not out of the woods yet I guess.

    Oh well.

  • A M Swallow

    A realistic anti-meteor mission needs defining. A science fiction writer can then turn this into a story and later a film script.

    The hero probably fires missiles at the side of the rock in say Operation Baseball Bat.

    • common sense

      What if the mission involves robots? Who’s the hero?

      And btw “firing missiles at the side of the rock” is not realistic. You will only get multiple possibly smaller impacts rather than one. The fragments would have to be very, very small to make this an appropriate method. And I don’t know how you would achieve this. If you use nukes then you’ll have several fragments raining down on Earth that are radioactive on top of everything else.

      Also blasting the rock does not deflect the trajectory of its center of gravity and therefore probably is the least effective way to do this.

      If the little thingy comes like the one over Russia then all is moot, we don’t even know they come until they are here.

      If it’s too big then, you know, pray – wink wink.

      The only realistic scenario I can think of is if we know it well in advance and send a robotic mission that will deflect the asteroid by adding/subtracting some delta-v. I believe, note I said believe, the current technology only allows for very limited opportunities to save the day.

      • A M Swallow

        common sense wrote

        What if the mission involves robots? Who’s the hero?

        The hero would either be the operator of the robots/missiles or the scientist who built them.

        We only need to divert the NEO by a small angle to cause it to miss the Earth.

  • amightywind

    Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College, who testified about her concerns that space is not appreciated by the public, argued that movies like Armageddon did more harm than good with respect to raising public awareness.

    What else would you expect with this country’s pop culture mentality? Democrats have nurtured this ignorance for decades. Much of the population cannot distinguish fact from fiction. What irony that a dazed public increasingly expects the government to come to their rescue at every need, even while government’s effectiveness declines.

    However, there is one line in Armageddon that nicely summarizes Bolden’s policy on asteroid threats:

    Guess what guys, it’s time to embrace the horror! Look, we’ve got front row tickets to the end of the earth!

    • common sense

      Where to start, always the challenge.

      “What else would you expect with this country’s pop culture mentality?”

      You may want to emigrate to a more educated, intellectually savvy country, like I dunno somewhere in Europe, or China maybe? No. Actually you know all these countries have a pop culture mentality whatever that means.

      “Democrats have nurtured this ignorance for decades.”

      Oh yeah, Democrats are well known for slashing education. Yeah. Good point..

      “Much of the population cannot distinguish fact from fiction.”

      Absolutely some even go so far as believing that SLS/MPCV will fly someday.

      “What irony that a dazed public increasingly expects the government to come to their rescue at every need, even while government’s effectiveness declines.”

      I am with you and I think that if the rocky menace was to come our way the government should not play any role whatsoever and leave it to the individual to act. And we should cut taxes so that every individual be given an opportunity to build its own rocket. Oh no wait. I mean contribute into the great SLS/MPCV savior rocket. No. Wait. That is a government program. Darn! What should we do?!?! Help us here! Headache and all…

      • amightywind

        You may want to emigrate to a more educated, intellectually savvy country, like I dunno somewhere in Europe, or China maybe?

        No, I would rather stay here, fight progressives, and restore America’s greatness.

        Oh yeah, Democrats are well known for slashing education. Yeah. Good point..

        It depends what you call education. Are you referring to the extortion racket where teachers unions use children as human shields to chisel ever more wealth from the frightened parents, or to the Christian mom who tries to home school her children while being harassed by the state?

        I am with you and I think that if the rocky…

        Has it ever occurred to you that the chances of fatalities are low enough that the best choice in meteor defense is to do nothing?

        • common sense

          “No, I would rather stay here, fight progressives, and restore America’s greatness.”

          So fight and quit complaining about “this” country.

          “It depends what you call education. Are you referring to the extortion racket where teachers unions use children as human shields to chisel ever more wealth from the frightened parents, or to the Christian mom who tries to home school her children while being harassed by the state?”

          I think you are a very sick person.

          “Has it ever occurred to you that the chances of fatalities are low enough that the best choice in meteor defense is to do nothing?”

          Did I say anything, anywhere like we should set-up a mission to an asteroid?

          You said you are a Cornell grad???? I thought people learned to read at Cornell. Maybe not. Or could it be that other Cornell? You know home schooling at Cornell? Very effective quite obviously.

  • Mark Whittington

    It seems that all of this talk and arm waving, with the pop culture references, of big rocks hitting the Earth is the flavor of the month because of recent events. I agree with the statement that “Armaggeddon” is the worst example to cite for what an asteroid diversion mission would look like, but it does gets cited than the superior “Deep Impact” mainly because of Bruce Willis’ star power. The Obama mission to an asteroid is not very relevant either, though the idea of sending an expedition to snare a rock and either divert it or take it to a safe place (L4 or L5) would certainly be worth doing.

    • common sense

      “The Obama mission to an asteroid is not very relevant either,”

      There is no such mission. Not sure how often we need to say it though. Anyone? Any thought?

      “though the idea of sending an expedition to snare a rock and either divert it or take it to a safe place (L4 or L5) would certainly be worth doing.”

      Why oh why? What is it worth?

  • Sending humans to a NEO asteroid would be an extremely wasteful stunt!

    Serious NEO asteroid programs for studying asteroids, or retrieving asteroid material, or changing the course of potentially dangerous asteroids should be exclusively robotic missions.

    Marcel F. Williams

  • E.P. Grondine

    So many people who completely don’t know what they are talking about, sharing their “wisdom” with us in such a definitive manner.

    Unfortunately, in this case that list includes Administrator Bolden.

    Clearly the existing detection systems are inadequate, as if the Chelyabinsk impactor had of come in just a little steeper, we’d be looking at about 10,000 dead, 100,000 wounded, and two nuke plants melting down. And what was left of the disaster agencies unprepared to handle any of it.

    Add in a press who is willing to tell their readers exactly what they want to believe, and to leave them rather completely misinformed.

    Like I said earlier, this is one of the saddest and most sordid stories in the history of science.

    Oh well. I wonder who will be providing the musical entertainment at the B612 fund raising events.

  • Coastal Ron

    Marcel F. Williams said:

    Sending humans to a NEO asteroid would be an extremely wasteful stunt!

    You are confusing two different issues.

    1. The NASA plan to visit an NEO is not related to “Saving The Earth!”. Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate said recently:

    If we go to an asteroid depending on how we do it, the whole idea is to learn how to travel beyond Earth orbit.

    Going to an NEO is like early sailors setting sail to a distant island – not to stay, but as a measurable target to test their skill. We need to do the same.

    2. Saving The Earth! If we need to save the Earth from an impending asteroid or meteor hit, then robotic systems would likely be the best to send, primarily since we can send so many more in a much quicker period of time – and less deflection is needed the further out in time you are.

    • Your not going to learn how to endure a few years of exposure to galactic radiation (a Mars mission)nor the reliability of your life support systems with a substantially too short, extremely expensive, extremely dangerous, and totally unnecessary manned mission to a NEO asteroid. A round trip Mars mission is probably going to last more than four times as long as any NEO mission.

      And most importantly, NEO spacecraft wouldn’t give NASA a vehicle capable of safely transporting humans into orbit around Mars and back. If it could, then NASA wouldn’t have to wait another decade in order to send humans into orbit around Mars because they’d already have a vehicle capable of journeying to Mars!

      The simplest and safest way to Mars is by first deploying an appropriately mass shielded habitat at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points where astronauts could stay for a few years to test the interplanetary habitat and to work out any problems with the vehicle. This allows you to test habitats that can actually– make the trip– to and from Mars! And if NASA wants to test the reliability of the propulsion system, simple and safer missions to other Earth-Moon or Earth-Sun Lagrange points should suffice.

      The first beyond cis-lunar space mission should be from L1 or L2 to high Mars orbit, not an asteroid. This would be a much safer mission, since a space station could already be placed in orbit around Mars as a refuge in case something goes wrong. A permanent rotating habitat producing artificial gravity, allowing astronauts to remain healthy while exploring Deimos and Phobos would be an excellent Mars space station once astronauts arrive in orbit. An unmanned back up vehicle in orbit around Mars capable of returning astronauts back to cis-lunar space would also enhance mission safety.

      A NEO asteroid mission is just a wasteful distraction that doesn’t give you a Mars vehicle. But it does manage to spend an enormous amount of limited NASA funds making it even more difficult for NASA to fund manned missions to Mars.

      Marcel F. Williams

      • Coastal Ron

        Marcel F. Williams said:

        Your not going to learn how to endure a few years of exposure to galactic radiation (a Mars mission)nor the reliability of your life support systems with a substantially too short, extremely expensive, extremely dangerous, and totally unnecessary manned mission to a NEO asteroid.

        Since a trip to Mars is spent in the great nothingness of space, all we need to do to imitate those conditions is get a little ways away from Earth. That provides the same radiation exposure and operational conditions, but we wouldn’t have to risk/commit to a two-year voyage.

        As to cost, if we use disposable systems, then it will be costly. But if we build a reusable spaceship, then all we have to do is refuel & resupply it – just like we do with the ISS. That’s one of the reasons why the ISS is a good analog what we need to do for venturing beyond LEO.

        since a space station could already be placed in orbit around Mars as a refuge in case something goes wrong. A permanent rotating habitat producing artificial gravity

        We don’t even have enough money or technology to leave LEO, and you’re proposing rotating space stations around Mars?

        You my friend are a Tinkerbell.

    • Egad

      Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate said recently:

      “If we go to an asteroid depending on how we do it, the whole idea is to learn how to travel beyond Earth orbit.”

      That’s at http://www.americaspace.com/?p=33312 and http://www.americaspace.com /?p=33236 , both worth reading.

  • DCSCA

    Seems the star-struck Tedster is “Cruzin’ for a Bruc’in,” but then, politics is Hollywood for ugly people so Ted fits ‘right’ in. Quite fixated on popculture to frame policy discussions, too. Catch ‘When Worlds Collide” for the next NEO hearing, Ted. Them ‘Destination Moon,’ when lunar exploration talk comes up and ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars” when chatter about Musk seeking subsidies for Red Planet retirement colonies surfaces. Love ‘ya, Ted. You’ll keep Mars from going red, right Ted? Best GOP poster boy since Tailgunner Joe.

  • James

    In the end, despite the very low risk of an impact that causes a catastrophe, nothing is going to happen here , until something catastrophic does happen.

    Democracy doesn’t put a stop light up at a dangerous intersection, despite repeated near misses and close calls and complaints from the citizenry, until someone is actually killed.

    The folks holding the purse strings will figure out a way to show their uninformed constituents, who think Armageddon with Bruce Willis represents reality, that something has been done about it, without spending any money (or at least an amount that might really make a difference in detection/avoidance) , and that they, the Congress critters, should be thanked by continued voting support.

    These are not the Droids you are looking for……

  • Dark Blue Nine

    I dunno. Bruce Willis is a pretty robotic actor. He might make a good space probe.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I would have like to have listened to Joan’s comments but sadly just to much going on (wow I sound like dennis wingo) to do it…after the reviews guess I didnt miss much

    Look a few things are clear to anyone with half a brain

    First if there was a real asteroid threat that was quantifiable and had some lead time…well the “usual suspects” would be very far away from the effort and finally NASA would get some competent kick ass management who would whip something together…

    Parroting the scene from Armaggedon where the “NASA” people come up with one goofy idea after another so much that even Billy Bob Thornton’s character cant take it…today’s NASA would come up with SLS/Orion 100 billion dollar budget and we should all just start praying. Lets face it those jerks couldnt hit the ground with a book unless there was gravity…

    2. The hearings were a joke (or at least it sounds like that with a lot of Bruce…)…comeon did they not talk about anything substanitive like you know how badly the space effort is run today.

    3. If its a near term threat…you know like under 100 days well I am sure we would all give it a valiant try but the religious extremist in the US would run amock and who knows it might be “the end times” (its all the black guys fault anyway right?)

    4. Obama’s asteroid trip is a joke

    5. Armageddon was a good chick flick. Deep IMpact…well a downer (grin)

    although I liked both.

    RGO

  • Hiram

    “There is no such mission. Not sure how often we need to say it though. Anyone? Any thought?”

    A month or two ago, at a NASA all-hands meeting, Lori Garver instructed attendees that the main goal of this administration, with regard to BEO space travel, was sending humans to a NEO. “And don’t forget that!” That being the case, it’s exactly right that there is no such mission, except within some senior heads.

    “What if the mission involves robots? Who’s the hero?”

    The folks who designed, built, and sent the robot. Got a problem with that? Get over it. It’s a dim definition of hero that presumes a need for putting ones self at personal risk. History is full of heroes who did not.

    • common sense

      “The folks who designed, built, and sent the robot.”

      Not gonna work. A team is not a hero.

      “Got a problem with that?”

      I cannot care less.

      “Get over it. It’s a dim definition of hero that presumes a need for putting ones self at personal risk. History is full of heroes who did not.”

      You missed my point… Read again. But yes. Now remember Congress, not I, referred to Bruce Willis to save the day in their immense and unaltered wisdom.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        I think that this inadvertently hits upon the ‘why’ of human exploration of all sorts.

        Robots are just insensate tools. Although some have been personified in the public eye due to their truly astonishing missions (the Voyagers and the Mars Surface Rovers for example), mostly they’re about as easy to empathise with as a cellphone. Human explorers, no matter what the nation, are automatically ‘one of us’ and their exploits have greater impact, positive and negative, on the public mind.

        ‘We’ haven’t been to Mars, not really. That won’t happen until a boot lands in that red sand. People will look at those astronauts and try to get into their heads – what they saw, what they felt. Even those who resent them or actually believe their work is a useless waste of time and lives will still understand that there is an existential value to a human reaching a place rather than just sending a robotic emissary. It would be a true human achievement, all the greater for how much more difficult and risky it would be compared to sending a robot.

        I’m not sure it’s based on anything that can be expressed logically; I doubt it. However, it is a very real part of how the human mind interprets the world.

        • common sense

          “I’m not sure it’s based on anything that can be expressed logically; I doubt it. However, it is a very real part of how the human mind interprets the world.”

          And very naive.

          • Ben Russell-Gough

            Perhaps, but unless you would like to swap your species for another one, it’s something you’re going to have to learn to live with and adapt to.

            • common sense

              I am not sure what this is supposed to mean but my friend this argument, in case you haven’t noticed, is not taking you, or I, anywhere exploring in space.

              Might be time to revise your approach to space exploration.

              But hey don’t take my word for it. Just go for it! Pick up the phone and make it happen as someone recently suggested in another thread.

              Whatever.

    • Egad

      “There is no such mission. Not sure how often we need to say it though. Anyone? Any thought?”

      A month or two ago, at a NASA all-hands meeting, Lori Garver instructed attendees that the main goal of this administration, with regard to BEO space travel, was sending humans to a NEO. “And don’t forget that!” That being the case, it’s exactly right that there is no such mission, except within some senior heads.

      And Mr. Bolden and Dr. Holdren said that very explicitly in Congressional testimony last week:

      Bolden: “We are developing spaceflight capabilities to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and on to Mars in the 2030’s.

      Holdren: “And of course NASA is committed to carrying out the President’s goal of conducting a human mission to an asteroid by 2025.”

      Just how that fits with what NASA is currently known to be doing is, as noted earlier, something of a head-scratcher. But it is certainly what the commanding heights keep saying, and saying quite persistently.

      • common sense

        “Just how that fits with what NASA is currently known to be doing is, as noted earlier, something of a head-scratcher. But it is certainly what the commanding heights keep saying, and saying quite persistently.”

        Oh come on. Until you see a budget to actually do something anything it’s all window dressing.

        They are just parroting Congress, their customers.

        Who will be at the helm of NASA in 2025/2030? Who will be President?

        You only command any one to do any thing if you commit a budget and as far as I know there is no such budget.

  • common sense

    So what’s next on Late, Late Night with Congress?

    I hear next week Congress will review bus driving technology and ask Keanu Reeves to give his thoughts.

    Ah ah ah… So funny. I like it when they inject levity in our every day life. Finally Congress closer to the people. Thank you Congress. Yay.

  • amightywind

    Lu said there there would be “great science” in such a mission, but it would be less relevant for deflecting asteroids.

    Actually, I think this has great relevance for asteroid deflection. To date we have landed 2 craft on larger asteroids, NEAR, and Hayabusa. Deep Impact smashed in a larger comet. We have no information on the material properties of small earth crossing asteroids, whether they are gravitationally bound rubble piles or solid rocks. It would be useful to understand this as it is relevant to the method most suited for deflection. A manned asteroid mission would certainly accomplish this.

    I’d hate to see NASA drill into one of these things and then have it fail to disintegrate like in the movie 7;^)

  • vulture4

    I thought the witnesses including Dr. Lu (unlike the senators) did a good job of explaining that the real need now is a more complete survey so that the asteroids that could do moderate damage (i.e. Tunguska) which are fairly common, are accurately tracked. If we find all the asteroids, we will know if there is a threat and have time to do something about it. Nelson seemed more interested in speaking importantly. I thought it was deft to say that even the proposed human mission needed a comprehensive survey, even though human flight to an asteroid itself is obviously irrelevant.

    • Senile Rep. Ralph Hall took the booby prize for suggesting we build a giant space laser to slice an asteroid in half, sending half into the Atlantic and half into the Pacific.

      At least he didn’t suggest a space shark with a frickin’ laser beam on its head …

      • vulture4

        Yes thats pretty funny. Although a manned mission could do some science, it wouldn’t make much sense as a goal since a robotic mission could do a lot more science for the same price.

  • BRC

    To be honest, if an Earth-smacking, mass-people killing (if not extinction) asteroid was discovered in course, a whatever distance and time… if we were properly scared of that (at the very least that WE and our families and all will DIE)…

    I’d say we opt for ALL options, and SCREW THE WORLD BUDGET!!! To hell with social services, defense, and yes (evil as it sounds) starving people in famine countries (who’d die anyway… yea, I’m bad). Go ahead and fund and deploy your long-distance asteroid-”nudger”, but keep ALL other options at the ready — including any and ALL NUKES (not just one)!!! Because if the “green & economical” nudger way comes up short, I say: use em or lose em (and you life).

    SO WHAT(?), if what we get is a lot of chunks still coming our way, so long as the main body does in fact get shoved over; it’ll be a regrettable but acceptable consequence versus certain extinction. BTW, more yet smaller pieces means more surface area for interacting with the atmosphere, and a greater likelihood of them burning up or at least reduction in size before impacts.

    • Call me Ishmael

      BTW, more yet smaller pieces means more surface area for interacting with the atmosphere, and a greater likelihood of them burning up or at least reduction in size before impacts.

      For really big impacts (i.e. continental-scale effects) this is not a good thing. The least damaging thing an impact of that size can do is move dirt around. “More yet smaller pieces” dump the same amount of energy into Earth’s ecosphere as one big piece, whether it starts out in the atmosphere, the ocean, or the ground. And atmospheric effects (like continent-wide fires) tend to be devastating over a much wider area than ground impacts. Ocean impacts are of course more probable than land impacts; the big problem there is tsunamis.

      • BRC

        You’re very likely correct. Still, we have to assume a possibility of a very unpleasant and not-PC preferred scenario that the “gentle-constant-nudging from a distance” option might not be 100% successful. Or perhaps that hefty rock will be discovered at a distance and time which wouldn’t make that an option viable (at least in doing this all by itself). Once that asteroid has passed the too-close-to-gently-nudge-away point, we will need a secondary, even tertiary way to HARD-shove as much (may not be all) of that object as we can off course.

        The question would then become: what can be done in the shorter-than-ideal notice? It may come down to simple numbers for the species: 6-billion dead or 60 million? Even with nukes, I acknowledge that if we can’t obliterate this rock, we may only just shatter it. The one bright spot in that is that at least some of that object’s mass will then be moving from Earth. The focus then shifts to the earth-bound chunks, using more nukes (remember I said using ALL the nukes we can muster, not a token safety-&-economically minded few).

        Unfortunately, I have to admit that even before we shoot anything it will be with the knowledge that regardless of the outcome, some large number of humanity WILL Die — at this point there will be no changing that!! If this asteroid is too large to destroy or be 100% deflected, it’ll be down to either the death of ALL or just SOME (again, 6-B or 6-m).

        Remember I mentioned this Nuke-it-good thing as a last (or next to last) choice, to hard-shoving most or all the asteroid aside using ALL the nukes we could muster, and that this would be accepting the likelihood of hits by remnants that went the wrong way. I acknowledge that it won’t be 100% effective, but still 70%, even 40% effectiveness may be sufficient for human survival — we’d still get awful casualties, but not as worse as the alternatives of “MOST” or “ALL”.

        The fact remains that, even given that your comments of continental fires and tsunamis are correct, and obviously casualties will be in the millions; the alternative would be to let the fully intact object hit at full unabated speed. I sincerely doubt we’re going to just adopt an attitude that last attempts shouldn’t ever be done because it won’t be 100% effective (the ALL or nothing mentality).

        • common sense

          I may be wrong but I don’t think you understand.

          Blasting a big rock into smaller chunks will essentially have no difference. The amount of energy released upon entry will be essentially the same. This energy, essentially kinetic energy, will turn into heat. So the amount of heat generated by so many chunks even if they do not literally hit ground (assuming you can make them very, very small) will still be enough to obliterate all living things on Earth.

          The only way is to deflect the trajectory. In order to do it you need to know long before impact what is coming. And even so depending on the size of the object the whole thing may be moot.

          I don’t kno if there is such a thing but if not there should be a trade study of available methods to deflect a big rock based on size, distance, speed, etc that shows what can be done. But I never saw any such thing.

          • BRC

            Actually I did understand, but I guess we have a bit of crossed-wires in communications. I agree that there’s little to no difference between a Big Rock hitting us, and that exact same Big Rock still coming down, albeit in the form of several chunks.

            What I was alluding to is that by blasting said rock at a distance from earth and from one side, while there would still be chunks falling earth-ward, there would be some percentage of that rock that would have hopefully been kicked off course.

            Say… if a 100K ton mass was in an earth collision, and we lob X-number of Nukes onto one side, in an attempt to hard shove it off trajectory. If we assuming this to be a rocky asteroid, the impacts may break it up into chunks. Then another wave of nukes might be used to independently target the larger pieces. In the end, though, we will still have what amounts to a field of boulders are still headed our way. HOWEVER…

            HOWEVER: The total mass of that resulting debris field still headed our way should be LESS than the original body! Not because of getting vaporized, but as a result some of that mass (just WAG-ing: 45 & 65% or 45K-65K tons) actually get pushed off course. Yes, we’ll still be hit, hit bad, but with at least some of the original mass gone, it would not the whole 100K ton ball of “whacks”

            CMIshmael might be correct regarding “Half the mass in multiple smaller chunks is probably worse than the whole thing in one spot”. You could be right, CMI; but as I said way up front, this mode of defense is meant as a LAST resort for anything that gets past the further out mitigation measures. Even if you are correct, and an impact of ~51% of the original mass would still ruin humanity’s whole day… it might also not totally end it, versus getting smacked by a whole lot higher a percentage.

            I’m simply saying that we ought not NOT do this, just because we might not guarantee <10% earth-hits. To make more sure, the Warmonger in me would say: "add even more Nukes"… or even a thimble of antimatter while we're at it… or, hell, even Rep Hall's frick'n (2-finger quote gestures) "LAY…ZERs". Bottom line, when faced with needing to conduct a last-resort effort (or you'll all die), you don't skimp on numbers or magnitude.

            To put it another way — borrowing from a WWII pacific battle: when facing a banzai attack, you didn't fuss over what is the economical or safe (or these days "green") or minimal amount of bullets would be to do the trick. You TAKE AND USE EVERYTHING you've got and keep firing until either they have been STOPPED or you are DEAD.

            • common sense

              Even though I understand the sentiment I still think it is unrealistic at many levels but here.

              http://www.space.com/14857-asteroid-nuclear-bomb-explosion-video.html

              Pay attention to all the ifs and we believes… And they only seem to simulate the effect of the shock wave which is not enough but I am not a specialist. I would have to research a little more. For example I do not see the trajectory change of the various asteroid constituents/rocks after detonation.

              And that

              http://rt.com/news/asteroid-didymos-earth-blast-418/

            • BRC

              I should probably re-emphasize once again, that I am NOT advocating an exclusive strategy of “nuke-it-’til-it-glows”, over the approach of long distance detection with mitigation by long-term gradual nudging.

              As I first said way up above, when (not if) an Earth-smacking mass-people killing asteroid gets detected, we should “opt for ALL options” (i.e., implement: EVERYTHING!). All other other world priorities and “needs” (even world hunger) would have just been made OBE’d by the overriding need to SURVIVE at all costs.

              • common sense

                I understand you are not advocating it.

                I am saying that even as a last resort it may only be just… futile and that praying may be at least as effective.

                It’s not necessarily the number of nukes that counts but since you are talking multiple nukes the multiple shock interactions and effects on the fragments trajectories. It will be non deterministic at our available level of computational simulation, way too many variables and interactions. We may build an empirical model though by simulating 1 nuke – 1 rock, then 2 nukes – 1 rock, 2 nukes – 2 rocks but no one knows how many rocks/fragments will come off the first impact or impacts. And are you detonating in sequence, simultaneously,…?

                BUT as I also said I am not 100% sure.

                If Los Alamos is considering the option and dedicating some budget to it I guess it may have some value anyway.

        • Call me Ishmael

          I agree that if you have some way of knocking most of the mass away from an Earth-intersecting trajectory entirely, you’re better off using it, even if it’s messy and leaves multiple smaller chunks still on impact trajectories. But that’s only if the “multiple smaller chunks” are no more than ~10% of the total mass. Half the mass in multiple smaller chunks is probably worse than the whole thing in one spot.

  • vulture4

    The critical element in planetary defense, as Lu explained, is not the device that moves the asteroid but the survey that detects it. It is completely feasible with existing technology to map the orbits of all asteroids of the size that exploded over Russia or larger, i.e. anything that would destroy even a city. Doing this will assure years of warning and permit the nudge strategy to work even with modest thrust. Without such a comprehensive survey there will be no need to consider countermeasures because the warning time will often be what it was in Russia – zero. The instances when asteroids were detected a few days out were basically luck. There are plenty of other near earth bodies that we never detect unless they impact.

  • common sense

    Recently watched Armaggedon (not seen since it came out). Gotta love the Godzillas…

    I think we definitely should consider sending Bruce Willis!

    Great movie!

  • E.P. Grondine

    The effects on public opinion of the movies “Deep Impact” and Armageddon” led Westley Huntress to set up the NASA NEO office.

    http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/cc050598.html

  • BRC

    What thaaaa FRACK is THIS??? I didn’t know SPAM could be made so ridiculously packed with detailed marketing drivel (lotsa writing–saying nothing)

    This is so waaaay off-topic… it’s like… like… from another country!!
    “BaDa-DUMP! Tissshhh!” *
    .

    .
    * — Drum-roll & cymbal-strike

  • BRC

    Okaaay… before anyone asks if I’ve been inhaling N2O or licking tree frogs (and in case you’ve missed what came before), I was addressing a substantially wordy & bizarre Spam (for lack of a better classification) from India (how do I know it was Indian? It said proudly said as much!)
    .

    Jeff, if you could please, you’re free to delete both this reply message and my (now very odd) one above it (dtd April 2, 2013, a 10:09 am). Thnx – - – BRC

  • common sense

    Hey don’t worry. Always better than inhaling tree frogs and licking N2O. Or is it leaking N2O… Oh well.

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