NASA war-games an asteroid impact disaster and it goes badly

NASA and a number of other federal, state and local organizations have war-played an asteroid impact on Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to Scientific American. The scenario depicted an asteroid 70 meters in diameter detected shortly before entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The asteroid would explode eight miles above the city with the force of a 10 megaton nuclear bomb. The explosion would devastate the city and its surroundings, claiming thousands of victims.

The exercise produced a number of sobering conclusions.

First, a few days, a few weeks, or even, probably, a few months would be too late to detect a destructive space rock heading for Earth for a deep impact. No way exists to stop a killer asteroid at this point. Even the sci-fi movie’s method of tossing a nuke at it would only make the problem worse, creating many small radioactive rocks from one large rock, only to fall over a wider area.

Second, people have become so suspicious of authority, whether from the political class or the media, that an announcement of a killer asteroid on its way would not be believed by a significant number of people. . Evacuating a strike zone would be difficult enough if everyone was ready to leave, but it’s likely that many people would outright refuse to go.

Of course, each problem has several solutions.

NASA’s recent DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission that diverted the trajectory of a distant asteroid was a great success. However, DART took five years of planning and execution to come to fruition. We need an asteroid deflecting system that can essentially launch on demand. This technology must be constantly tested against asteroids approaching the Earth. The US Space Force should be tasked with developing, testing and maintaining an asteroid diversionary unit.

A systematic survey of the solar system to locate and categorize objects approaching Earth should begin as soon as possible. The NEO Surveyor telescope is expected to be launched and commissioned. To supplement this effort, the government should pay a bounty to amateur astronomers for each unknown object approaching Earth that they discover.

The exercise also revealed the prevalence of misinformation and misinformation that can accompany an impending asteroid impact, which lacks a quick technological fix. Social media and ideologically biased television news are perfect vehicles for stirring up confusion and misinformation. An impending asteroid impact requires the united effort of humanity to ward it off and, if the worst happens, to mitigate it.

Widespread public ignorance of space issues has already been documented. But it is alarming that a certain percentage of people do not believe the announcement of an imminent asteroid impact. Some people would refuse to evacuate from a strike zone no matter what authorities tell them – meaning they would die if an asteroid destroyed their communities.

How could government authorities convince the public that the threat of an asteroid strike is real? The exercise noted that NASA has a lot of credibility regarding space issues. Perhaps part of the solution would be to put the space agency in charge of disseminating information about the impending disaster.

The best way to deal with an asteroid impact is to prevent it from happening. While an asteroid impact and its aftermath can make for thrilling cinema, in real life such an event would be a disaster in terms of lost lives and treasures.

The asteroid described in the exercise was relatively small. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago is thought to be about 12 kilometers wide, the size of a mountain. Such an asteroid impact today would wipe out most life on this planet and end the human species. No mitigation strategy exists for such a disaster.

To protect the planet against asteroid impacts, an effective detection and diversion system must be put in place as soon as possible. Defense against asteroids can be expensive, but allowing even a relatively small space rock to pass through would be even more expensive.

Some have observed that the dinosaurs died out for lack of a space program. Humans have a space program, several of them in fact. There is no excuse for not undertaking efforts to prevent the apocalypse from coming from the sky.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of the space exploration studies “Why is it so difficult to return to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why Is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

Leave a Comment