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Apollo 17 Landing Site
The landing site of the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17 (Click for full panorama)

    Citing space age triumphs to belittle our terrestrial failures has always been a case of Lunar apples and Earthly oranges. Here’s why.

Start: How many times have you heard that phrase?

“If we could put a man on the Moon … why can’t we end poverty here at home?”

“If we could put a man on the Moon … why can’t we put a stop to the war?”

“… end homelessness?”

“… put an end to racism?”

“… give everyone jobs that needs them?”

And, usually, the argument involves something to do with, “all that money thrown away into space.”

(This last part always struck me as pretty thick, because that money wasn’t getting packed off into space and squandered by Lunar spendthrifts — it was getting used down here.)

In all seriousness this is a good question, but the answer is actually staring right at us, if we’d think about it for a moment.

Lunar (or Martian) Apples and Earthly Oranges

In my last post, about Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars venture, I had a couple of comments here and on Facebook that sounded exactly like this sentiment, dismissing Tito’s idea as a pointless exercise and the use of otherwise valuable resources in a completely misguided way.

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We have the technology to save the world from asteroid and comet impacts. What part of “extinction” don’t we understand?

The Asteroid Apophis
Dateline: MOSCOW – Russian Space Agency Chief Anatoly Perminov denies rumors that a planned mission to destroy the Earth-grazing asteroid Apophis was inspired by its uncanny resemblance to former U.S. President George W. Bush.

 

Start: I spend some time now and then on the forums for The Paracast, Gene Steinberg’s and David Biedny’s premier podcast/radio show on the paranormal. A couple of days ago, David Biedny posted a link to this article from Yahoo News: “Russia may send spacecraft to knock away asteroid.”

As David noted … thank God the Russians are here to save us.

(If that seemed a bit sarcastic to you, well … you’re right.)

The article notes that the near-Earth object (NEO) Apophis, an asteroid about 887 feet wide, has been concerning astronomers for nearly six years now, due to how close it would be passing the Earth in 2029. According to this news release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a collision with the Earth has been ruled out for the 2029 encounter, and for the remainder of the 21st century.

(I guess the Russians don’t trust our mathematics. Or something.)

False Steps Toward a Real Threat

However, this doesn’t rule out objects we don’t know about creating havoc on our planet. We are constantly being surprised by near-misses, such as the one described in this Universe Today article in 2004, a 33 foot wide object that passed overhead only about 4000 miles up.

Objects this small naturally pose little risk, but the real hazard is that this object was detected only shortly before its closest approach. Likewise the article notes that other objects have been detected only after they pass.

As confused as the Russian Space Agency Chief seems to be, he is correct in that asteroids — as well as yet-to-be-discovered long-period comets — pose enormous risks to our species. The suggestion that asteroidal and cometary impacts have triggered planet-wide extinction events has long been seriously discussed by the scientific community, and, despite our species’ arrogance, we are hardly any better prepared than the dinosaurs to preserve our existence should this ugly possibility occur today.

More of a “Boom” Than a “Bang”

So how much of a “boom” do we have to worry about?

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