NASA’s Losing War With Killer Asteroids
If they want to save the earth, those NASA boys better start watching their movies all the way to the end.
By Jim Knipfel
Finally recognizing the threat to all life on earth posed by massive killer asteroids, thanks in no small part to nearly sixty years’ worth of asteroid movies like Meteor, Fire in the Sky, The Day the Sky Exploded, Without Warning, Asteroid, Armageddon and Deep Impact, in the late ’90s NASA and the JPL set up the Near Earth Object Program. The goal of the NEOP was twofold. First they planned to catalog all the millions of asteroids of assorted shapes and sizes zipping about the galaxy that might potentially intersect with the earth’s orbit at some point down the line, killing us all. The second and more important aim was to try and figure out a way to destroy or at least deflect the damn things before they have a chance to ruin everybody’s weekend.
The need for such a program was made abundantly clear just a few years ago when a 30-meter wide asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in the skies above a village in Russia. Problem with that was, see, that the astronomers at NEOP never saw it coming, despite all their maps, orbiting telescopes, computers and high-zoot technology.
But letting one little asteroid sneak through under the radar, you ask me, is crinkle-cut potatoes compared with a much bigger problem facing the program. Although NEOP had come up with all sorts of nifty plans to knock giant asteroids out of orbit, sending them hurtling harmlessly into the void, all the plans they came up with were clearly lifted directly from the above-mentioned movies. So they drafted plans to use nuclear missiles and lasers and, well, more nuclear missiles to defend the planet. Just blow them right the hell up way out there in space, easy as pie. But you know what? Those things NEVER EVER WORKED in the movies!
Even if you get a direct hit on a monstrous killer asteroid with a dozen ICBMs, you still end up with huge chunks of asteroid careening into the planet, wiping out (depending on the movie) New York, Hong Kong, LA, Seattle, Dallas, Paris, London, or the whole damn earth. So what the fuck’s the point?
My guess is this is what happens at NEOP time and time again. Some tech goes home at night, pops in an asteroid movie, watches the first half or so, gets a handle on the general premise and the presumed solution to the problem. Then he gets bored (all those movies are pretty much the same), and wanders into the kitchen for a snack, neglecting to watch the rest. Then he goes into the office the next day and drafts a new defense plan (usually involving missiles) based on what he saw in that first half, ignorant of the fact the plan failed miserably in the film’s second half.
Maybe it was that whoopsy with the Russian meteor that led NASA to conclude they needed to beef up NEOP a little bit, so last week they announced the opening of a related program they were calling the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Okay, I won’t even mention the name was taken from one of Toho’s science fiction films from the ‘60s, as that would be cheap. We’ll let it slide. The goal of this new program is apparently to come up with new high-tech ways to deflect asteroids. Maybe even come up with a couple plans that don’t involve lasers or ICBMs.
Well, I wish them all the luck in the world. But if I may offer a small and simple suggestion that could save them a lot of wasted time and money, I think NASA should consider investing in still another program they could call the Office of Cinematic Eschatology, or OCE for short. In fact I’d even like to offer my services as its new director. Just give me a small side room at JPL, a couch, a TV, a VCR and maybe a bar fridge and I’ll be set to do my part to save the human race. After all, before they waste more billions on some kind of wackadoodle nonsense they saw used in a movie, maybe they should consider tossing a few bucks to some guy who could tell them just how the hell the movie ends first.
Published January 13th, 2016
Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.