Ex-Astronaut's Lonely Mission: Save Earth From Asteroid Strike

Schweickart: In responding to that challenge, there are probably teams of people learning a great deal. The possibility of Apophis continuing to be a real threat is one in 45,000. But in terms of understanding the challenge that we're going to be facing with other near-Earth asteroids that we find -- and we will definitely find some that will be more threatening -- it's very useful.

The more people we have thinking seriously about this, the better. And I'm not talking about the general public wringing their hands, I mean technically qualified people seriously looking at the challenge of taking action. It's important to have people studying the orbital mechanics, the techniques we could use for deflection, and looking at the decision-making process that would be involved in deciding which asteroids to deflect. The legal and political implications will probably be the most difficult challenges.

WN: Why is that?

Schweickart: Who is it that makes the decision: Do we or do we not deflect this particular asteroid? Is it small enough that someone will say, "We'll just take this hit, we won't deflect this one"? If it's just going to impact a few counties, are they the only ones who pay for it? There are a million questions of that kind that will have to be answered, and not after we discover one that has our name on it, but before, so we don't end up in a decade-long debate when we're threatened.

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