A team of NASA alums is building a spacecraft to protect Earth - and you can help.
- By Bruce Lieberman
- Air & Space magazine, January 2013
(Page 4 of 4)
Former astronaut Tom Jones, who flew on four space shuttle missions, says he kept watch from orbit for impact craters on Earth, including Meteor Crater, but also Clearwater Lakes and Sudbury Basin in Canada, and others in Russia, India and Australia. “When you see it with your own eyes, you realize that that thin little blanket of air is not going to do much to stop an asteroid if we happen to be faced with a large one,” says Jones, who is an adviser to B612. “We are lucky that we have this filter that prevents a constant rain of destructive impacts. But the fact is that our lifespans are too short to appreciate the violence that the solar system visits upon Earth.”
British astrophysicist Martin Rees, who also is an adviser to B612 and the author of a 2003 book about the danger of an NEO impact, Our Final Hour, said he views Sentinel as an insurance policy. “If we had an asteroid impact on a populated area, it would cause probably $100 billion worth of damage, so if you think about what insurance premium you are prepared to pay…[the cost of Sentinel] is worth paying.”
For Schweickart, stopping an asteroid before it stops us is a no-brainer. “We have it in our capability today to ensure that one of the major threats to the continuation of the evolution of life on Earth is eliminated,” he says. “Now that’s a grandiose task. What we’re talking about there is terminating a process that has gone on for four and a half billion years since the formation of the solar system—of big objects crashing into the planet and essentially doing a Control-Alt-Delete. And here we are, the only life-form that we know about, that has developed technology…to ensure that our evolution continues. So, that’s a hard thing not to take on.”
Off I-40 on the road to Meteor Crater, AM 1610 advertises a visitors center at the rim, with a museum, gift shop, and sandwich counter, plus an RV park with a picnic area in the “beautifully landscaped” setting. If you understand what happened here 50,000 years ago, the radio message is surreal. “Meteor Crater,” the announcer says, drawing out the words for dramatic effect. “Experience the impact.”
Thanks. But no thanks.
Bruce Lieberman is a freelance science writer in Carlsbad, California. He writes about astrophysics, climate change, and other subjects.