Saturday, March 17, 2007

Save the asteroids

When I was a kid in junior high school (1967), I was fascinated by an article I read in TIME magazine about something called Project Icarus, an early academic effort to consider how to deal with an asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth. It was only a hypothetical project and even a hypothetical problem, but it was quite fascinating.  Since then we've even seen two Hollywood movies about asteroid collisions. Now, I read an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart entitled "The Sky Is Falling. Really." which speaks in favor of pursuing the belief that "scientists feel we have the technology to intercept and deflect many asteroids headed toward Earth."

Superficially, this sounds like a truly wonderful and useful goal.

But, on second thought, I have to disagree with the motive.

Even if scientists and engineers and policymakers can in fact "intercept and deflect asteroids", I am not so sure that this is a morally righteous thing to do, without even needing to get into debates on cost and feasibility. Actually, I am sure that it is not the morally righteous thing to do.

Asteroids are a part of our natural world, the universe around us, our planetary neighborhood. We should be making a more diligent effort to accept our position in reality and adjust our lifestyles and worldviews accordingly.

Every day our very lives are threatened by all manner of perfectly natural phenomena, ranging from storms, floods, fires, and avalanches, to volcanoes, earthquakes and drought.

Sure, it is perfectly sensible to do our best to avoid loss of life and property, but ultimately my belief is that we need to accept that "bad things will happen" and that it is simply silly to try to avoid all bad things. Do what is sensible, and resist that which is beyond the limits of sensibility.

Sure, outright total destruction of the planet and total extinction of "life as we know it" is categorically different, but I would simply argue that we still should accept our planetary neighborhood for what it is and live our lives accordingly. First and foremost, living your life in fear is not an acceptable choice. Accept that some day each of us will die, accept it, and then live every day as if it mattered, and don't spend even one second contemplating that this day might be your last.

Odds are that every one of us alive today will all die a "natural" death long before any asteroid snuffs us and our planet out.

Taking extraordinary measures, at a high monetary cost, and a significant diversion of resources, and a significant diversion of human talent, and teaching people to live in fear if they don't take these extraordinary measures, to me, is absolutely crazy. The psychic cost alone is unimaginably high.

Besides, even a slight miscalculation in such human intervention could make the situation far worse than it might have been without intervention. Better to leave well enough alone.

So, leave the asteroids alone.

Save the asteroids.

And save our willing acceptance of the ultimate contingency of all life as simply a part of living.

So, no, the sky is not falling.

And even if it is, get over it and move on.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 10:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah they'll put one off course from hitting us and wipeout something equally important


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