Asteroid Deflection: Even Hard in Fiction

Well, not everyone is talking about Apophis (the asteroid, not the namesake Egyptian demon, and most definitely not the crappy Stargate: SG-1 villain*), but the Russian space agency announcement that they want to deflect the asteroid from a collision with Earth has attracted a fair amount of attention.

Coming from the same country where a mayor sees fit to try and control the weather, this declaration should be no surprise.  It may prompt some incredulous looks, especially since NASA recently revised its estimate of how likely Apophis is to hit the Earth.  What was a 1-in-45,000 chance is now considered a 4-in-one million shot.  However, Apophis does present an opportunity to figure out how to handle near-Earth objects that may represent a higher risk to the planet.

Sure, insert your Armageddon joke here (I remember Meteor, which was probably just as awful of a film, but from the 80s), or recall “The Paradise Syndrome” episode of Star Trek where the mighty Enterprise was lain low by attempting to deflect an asteroid.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s a science fiction story.  But we may need to make that fiction fact at some point, and Apophis presents an opportunity to try and put some truth to the tall tale.  Not as a target, but as a motivation to put plans on the table and build a framework for making them real.

Putting the truth to this tale will be more about diplomacy than technology, as a recent presentation by former astronaut Rusty Schweickart indicates.  Schweickart and his foundation are advocating for a gradual deflection process, which takes time and requires the patience of countries that face the direct hit while the deflection takes place.  There’s been no definitive indication of what methods the Russians would like to

* yes, that’s redundant

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