Astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 Lunar Module Pilot, reflects on the importance of Asteroid Day. You can book tickets to Asteroid Day at the Science Museum on June 30 here.
This central question deserves some thought and, hopefully, subsequent action. It arises out of the little known but factual claim that future asteroid impacts can be both predicted and prevented, saving lives and property, provided that we, collectively, employ readily available technology to establish this capability.
But who is the “we” in this statement? “Aye, there’s the rub” as Hamlet bemoans in his soliloquy “To be, or not to be…?” There are two very important “we”s involved which are especially relevant in regard to Asteroid Day; the world public, and world governments.
Planetary defense, the prevention or mitigation of asteroid impacts, is public safety writ large. Millions of asteroids have impacted Earth in its 4.5 billion year history both enabling and shaping life on the planet. The vast majority have been (relatively speaking) small, equivalent to no more than a typical hydrogen bomb or two. But a few have been in the 100 million hydrogen bomb energy category, destroying much of life on the planet virtually instantaneously. This 4.5 billion year old threat continues unimpeded today.
This film, 51 Degrees North, will be screened as part of Asteroid Day at the Science Museum.
What has changed dramatically is that we humans now have the capability to terminate this ongoing process. Yet, generally speaking, it is governments who ultimately have the responsibility for public safety and who must act. But without public recognition and insistence that they shoulder planetary defense responsibility governments will continue to avoid accountability.
While geopolitical coordinating and real politik is challenging, the cost of developing and establishing a planetary defense capability is surprisingly inexpensive. In a formal NASA report it was estimated that developing the initial capability would require only about 1.4% of NASA’s budget for the first 10 years and thereafter approximately 0.4% of it’s budget for maintenance. This is an amazingly small cost for so huge a survival benefit!
Nevertheless until the world public demands that this capability and coordination be developed it will not happen. There is no scientific community to lobby for this… it is not science. There is no industrial complex calling for this… there are no mega-contracts to be issued. We’re talking long-term human survival here… future generations… our children and grandchildren for generations to come.
Asteroid Day is the first attempt to marshal widespread public support for this global issue. Of highest priority is substantially increasing the discovery rate of potentially threatening asteroids. We can technically increase this rate of discovery by 100 fold. What is needed for governments to commit to this is your signature on the Asteroid Day 100x Declaration.
Later this year, the Museum will open Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition exploring the dramatic story of how Russia turned the dream of space travel into a reality.