I came across two articles on the same day, both involving asteroids.  The first is a short list and rudimentary explanation of 5 technologies to protect Earth from an asteroid strike, and the second is a newly detailed plan by NASA to relocate and land on an asteroid by 2021.  As you might guess, there was some dissonance going on in my head after reading both articles.

It’s pretty cool that someone is devising strategies to deal with any errant asteroids that come close enough to Earth to pose a threat.  While its highly unlikely we’ll see a cataclysm-sized asteroid making a b-line for us any time soon, the risk certainly does exist.  Early detection would let us know we’re in trouble but wouldn’t do much beyond herald in the anarchy and chaos that would ensue across our planet.  All the other plans, from laser deflection, to nuclear destruction, to using a gravity tractor to alter the asteroid’s course, at least sound viable enough, but at least they’re all intended to keep asteroids off our doorstep.

Asteroid-Capture-630x485Well NASA’s new plan to capture a small asteroid, around 20-30 feet wide, and bring it closer to Earth for study aims to do the exact opposite.  Granted, a 30ft. asteroid wouldn’t level a city or decimate the population, but I have to admit that it kind of worries me that they’re going to try and do this.  If we can’t pull this off they’ll be a big rock landing someone on the planet!  As someone who rarely questions the wisdom of scientific research this is one that I don’t know if I completely get.  Why do they have to bring it closer?  presume its because the logistics of getting a crew to wherever the asteroid is would ramp up all the problems a hundred times over, but it just seems like a better than bringing an asteroid closer to us.

I wonder if NASA’s sudden urge to go gather up an asteroid for study is in any way motivated by the severe cuts made to the NASA’s budget in recent years, as well as its near crippling with the sequester cuts going on.  Even if that is the case, they will be receiving $100M for the project.  Could this be a way to prove the worth of asteroid mining to potential investors, or entrepreneurs who might start up a whole slew of asteroid mining companies?  That comes as close to the conspiracy line as I’m comfortable with.  Personally, I’d rather just see us land people on Mars or send a surface exploration robot to Io or Titan.  Call me crazy, but I’d rather discover extraterrestrial life, even if its a bacteria, than do anything that would just line someone’s pockets with space gold!

image source: [4sci] [technobuffalo]