When you listen to Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart talk about the US government's current approach to deflecting ELE asteroids away from Earth, you'd be excused for thinking the great minds at NASA had watched Armageddon a few too many times. That's because NASA's preferred method, as outlined in a 2007 report, is to blast threatening asteroids out of the sky with nuclear weapons. The approach is America, Fuck Yeah!-approved, for sure, but at the very least it's ineffective, Schweickart told attendees during a public lecture in San Francisco last week. At the very worst it's a government-pressured nightmare scenario right out of Dr. Strangelove.
First of all, understand that Schweickart loves NASA. The agency put him in orbit around Earth, after all, but he believes its cash-strapped later years might have led the agency-under immense pressure from Washington-to endorse a program with an ulterior motive: put nuclear weapons in space.
To remedy that situation, Schweickart's group, the B612 Foundation, intends to "use gentler tactics" to observe and eventually deflect asteroids. It's totally make love, not intergalactic war, man.
These new methods include using more powerful telescopes as they come online throughout this century to ID targets ASAP, as well as unmanned spacecraft and probes. Most asteroids could be redirected easily by rear-ending or towing them with these craft, Schweickart said.
In his lecture Schweickart compared Earth's citizens to a blindfolded hitter in a batting cage. We know the pain is coming, but we have no way of knowing when. One day we will, and people like Schweickart hope we'll be ready to react with the most effective means possible. According to him, that means no nukes. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum will simply have to find another way to kill the aliens. [Wired]