Choose Life; Privatize Space

Eric J. Tower
 
Issue XXI - April 5, 2004
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"The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."
-Robert A. Heinlein

Chip's face turned sheet white as he looked up from his telescope at his data.  Could this be right?  The object in the sky was becoming brighter-- he could see that clearly-- but what the data suggested--simply couldn't be--could it? "Smitty! Run these numbers again and get back to me quick."

Chip knew the data that Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research collected was a combination of official astronomy sources, and a mish mush of amateur astronomers.  Chip chuckled to himself nervously as he recalled meeting a few of the amateur astronomers at a convention down in Florida.  This army of irregulars combined with an under-funded, under-staffed, overly bureaucratized force of Astrophysicists was all that stood between earth and...  Chip couldn't bring himself to think of it; the data must be off.  Probably another one of those crackpot whacks in New Mexico working out the numbers so that the Armageddon he'd been saying his alien friends were warning us about could reach the news and boost his site's t-shirt sales.

Smitty ran back into the room with the long print out of numbers. He put it down in front of Chip and highlighted the trajectory reading. "There it is, Chip. Jet Propulsion Labs in California say that they are going to run it through another time before they call the President."

"How big, and how long do we have?" Chip's voice was solemn as he looked at Smitty, his friend for over twenty years.

"There's two pieces about the size of 1997XF11; each roughly a mile across.  We have a little less than two days before it strikes.  JPL is working up where it might hit.  They expect with the way it's broken up that it will hit the South Pacific and perhaps somewhere between Indiana and Maine.  Give or take a few hundred miles."

That was not a joke and Chip knew it.  It was still too soon to get exact numbers; too many variables.  Too many variables, no guarantees of usefulness -- that's what they said in the Senate when they voted to cut funding for NASA in favor of the massive public health care plan.  Hadn't XF11 been ample warning enough?  Or 2004FH?  Or AL00667?  Of course Chip knew no one had any idea what the hell those call numbers meant for humanity.  But to the scientists who spoke before the Senate and attended the yearly conferences, those numbers and letters represented a warning of eventual strike.

Chip knew that it was too late now. All the programs headed up by NASA and the military to develop defenses to protect earth had been cut by the anti-military and environmentalist lobbying.  Chip found it ironic that they wanted to protect the earth from the pollution that man's arrogant space industry created.  But now nothing but a few telescopes and forty-six hours of warning would protect them from the doom of two massive stones slung at the earth.  Feed People, Not Machines! That was the slogan that the protesters' sign had read on the news; some sort of food stamp bill was being cut to increase social security benefits. 

All this time-- Chip thought to himself---all this time they have been cannibalizing one program for another to help these people, save those people, protect that animal or preserve that plant.  There had been enough money for anything that won votes.  Though no more votes would be cast for at least another century-- presuming something is reestablished.  To think that they had turned down offers by hundreds of private space firms willing to buy the assets of NASA.  This might have all been avoided years ago.

“Space is for science and humanity!” A senator had said “Not for private exploitation of business!  Preserve space for humanity and vote against the private exploitation of space!”

"Chip, you all right?"

Chip looked up at Smitty with tears in his eyes.  “There’s some ironic justice in it all Smitty, you know?  Those bastards will finally get to return to the caves they have been trying to drag us all back to since the industrial revolution.”  He laughed forcibly, a few seconds too long.

“Get a hold of yourself Chip!  It’s not all over yet; we have forty-five hours and fifty minutes.  We can find high ground, get supplies, we can still survive!”

Reality came back to Chip.  Smitty was right there was still survival and maybe in time…revival.  But for now they had to survive.  Time to start thinking.  “Smitty go home get your truck and family, load any guns and ammunition you have, get books, all the books you have.  Meet me back here in six hours.”

"Right, see you in six."  Smitty ran out to his car.

There was a lot to prepare for, a lot to get before strike.  There is still survival, Chip thought, and eventually revival.

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On Monday March 15, 2004 scientists discovered an asteroid named 2004FH that passed between the Earth and the Moon on March 18th, the closest ever near-Earth object to be recorded.  This object was about 100 feet in diameter and, though it did not hit the earth, if it had, it would have caused significant surface damage or sizeable tidal waves.  (There was no television news coverage of this event outside of a ticker on the Fox News Channel.)

It is estimated that, once every two years, an object about this size goes undetected by astronomers and passes near the vicinity of the Moon.  These events are not a frequent as terrorist bombings, but they are just as large a threat to civilization, if not greater than the terrorists themselves.

It is estimated that at the current rate of advances man will not have a working viable defense against asteroids until roughly 2025.  In 2028 the asteroid XF11 will pass at about twice the distance of the moon, an extremely close pass by astronomical standards.  XF11 is a mile across and is also estimated to be orbiting in a pattern that has cased scientists to label it a long-term threat.  Though it is not estimated to strike the earth for another few centuries, it clearly shows yet again that the reality of asteroids striking the earth is not just a matter for good science fiction but in fact a frightening part of science reality.

It has been shown in many industries before; a privatized industry makes advances far faster and with greater efficiency than a government regulated industry.  The threat poised by these objects and the begrudgingly slow pace of the government backed space industry is by far the best reason to privatize space.

What you have read above about the astronomer Chip is a short work of fiction, but the reality of this article is that the lives of our descendants and our very civilization lay in the balance with this issue.  Our choices are clear, privatize space or inherit the caves.

More Information:

2004FH:
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news142.html

NASA Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards:
http://impact.arc.nasa.gov/

Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

LINEAR (Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research):
http://www.ll.mit.edu/LINEAR/

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.