Recently, a large asteroid had a close encounter with earth while a meteor actually exploded over Russia damaging property and causing some injuries.
These closely occurring natural events served to bring public attention to the big what-if question. Namely, what if a large heavenly body were hurtling on a collision course with earth? How can we earthlings forestall such an inevitable threat to extinction?
The scientific experts on talk shows assured the public that by being watchful of the heavens, we could calculate the trajectories and anticipate possible collisions as much as 20 years away.
With the technology already available on earth, this would be plenty of time to design suitable propelling force that would meet the celestial body with just the right glancing blow to nudge the object off the original course resulting in eventual fly by without a collision.
I am not so sanguine and can easily imagine a scenario with a less happy outcome. For example, let us imagine that …
Dr. Alphonse Keen, a PhD psychologist and amateur astronomer was the first to spot an asteroid heading for earth. He reasoned that the public might not take the threat to heart if they were told that the collision was 20 years away. To make sure of the sense of urgency, he said the collision was 10 years away.
Other scientists working to confirm the findings quickly exposed the wrong projection to the immense relief of governments and people around the world. Suddenly they were given an extra decade to solve this problem and the feeling of urgency were perceptibly lessened.
The fundamentalists declared that they would pray to God to avert the end of the world. They expressed faith in God’s will be done.
The Libertarians insisted that it’s not up to the government to solve the world’s problem.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle after failing to reach consensus decided that the issue could be safely deferred until the next session of Congress, and then the next….
The White House decided to take the matter to the UN. The response from the General Assembly was that this was a matter for the Security Council. Other members of the Security Council pointed out that the US, as the sole super power and technological leader, must take the leading role and assemble the task force to repel the asteroid.
The American representative to the UN expressed the dismay that the US does not have a budget for such an undertaking. The EU representative indicated that they too are broke. China and India rejected any suggestion that contribution to the save the world project be levied according to population.
In the meantime a rising chorus of naysayers began to make their views known. They questioned the accuracy of the orbital calculations. They pointed out that asteroids have never collided with earth within human knowledge and why should it now?
Some expressed confidence the earth will weather any collision. Others concluded that it was all a grand conspiracy formulated by the same folks that created the myth of global warming.
In the meantime, a handful of super rich convened a secret meeting to discuss the construction of a space platform large enough to host a significant sampling of the human race and thus preserve the species. The platform would have to sustain life for possibly decades until the aftermath of the collision subsided and earth became habitable again.
The trillion dollar financing was no challenge and all the technical details were fully examined and quickly addressed except one. Namely, the elite gathering could not agree on which of the human DNAs to be selected and ferried to the space platform.
The proceedings of the meeting was never publicly disclosed and thus the human race was spared of the sordid details of the clash of selfish and bigoted minds on the project that ultimately never got off the ground.
What happened in the interim 20 years before collision day, I leave for Hollywood's fertile imagination.