A couple of years ago, in a fairly rural area of Siberia, a “small” asteroid “grazed” the Earth’s surface with the equivalent force of 300,000 tons of TNT. Three thousand buildings were damaged, and more than 1,000 people were injured (thankfully, none of them fatally).
Now, imagine if that asteroid had struck in the middle of Chicago. Or Boston. Or New York. Buildings would have been leveled. Millions would have died. That’s a real — though slim — possibility, every single day. If you’re anywhere near where the asteroid lands, you could burn to death or even be vaporized. A medium-sized asteroid striking NYC, according to one expert, would be the equivalent of 10 nuclear bombs striking at once.
But here’s the thing: It is preventable. It is possible to stop an asteroid from striking the Earth, and it wouldn’t take Bruce Willis sacrificing himself to do so. Or whoever it was who went on a suicide mission in Deep Impact. It’s also a relatively cheap solution.
According to a recent Planet Money podcast, an organization called the B612 Foundation — a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing the Earth from being hit by an asteroid — has the knowledge to create the Sentinel Space Telescope, which would orbit the Earth to map and track asteroids that may enter the atmosphere.
The Sentinel Space Telescope would give us time to send out a spaceship and deflect the asteroid. The technology exists!
The problem, as the Planet Money podcast explored, is that no one is willing to pay for it. It’s relatively cheap, too. For $500 million — less than the gross box office of Armageddon — we could develop this technology and prevent asteroids from wiping out millions of people. Unfortunately, no one is willing to pony up the money to fund it.
That said, Congress has passed legislation asking NASA to create an asteroid defense. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t give NASA any money to actually implement the technology. Congress argues that it’s a planetary problem, but that no other countries are willing to chip in and pay for it, and our Congress won’t fund it without their help. So, we’re at a standstill.
So, yes. It is possible to prevent an asteroid from striking the Earth — in fact, it’s a fairly simple solution. But no, that solution does not yet exist because no one is willing to pay for it.
(Via Planet Money)