Re: SPACE: Cassini Mission Consequences

Richard Plourde (
Mon, 22 Sep 1997 17:06:26 -0400

At 12:25 PM 9/22/97 +0200, den Otter wrote:
>Richard Plourde <> wrote:
>> For example, in 1997 we have no control over a killer-asteroid.
>> If, on the other hand, we had continued developing
>> out-of-earth-orbit space craft in 1970, then very possibly we
>> would have control over such a killer asteroid.
>Really? What if you stuff a (slightly modified?) space shuttle
full of
>nuclear warheads and send it on a collision course with the
asteroid so
>that it either gets blown to small, and relatively harmless bits,
>changes direction so that the impact is avoided.

The space shuttle, as currently designed, represents an
earth-orbit vehicle. According to what I've read, it does not
have the ability to achieve escape velocity. Wait until a
threatening asteroid gets inside range of the orbital capability
of the shuttle, and you lose. While the space shuttles may have
the ability to move the necessary classes of components into a
parking orbit where, conceivably, those parts might get built into
something useful, the integrated time-payload-capacity of the
current fleet of shuttles might represent "too little, too late."
And that doesn't even begin to consider such issues as:

1: sufficiently early detection and tracking
2: systems required to deflect an asteroid
('Breaking-up' a large cast-iron block strikes me as not
a probable solution.)
3: delivery systems for the deflection systems
4: control systems
5: task planning and implementation

Toss into the works the inevitable screams of complaint about even
*trying* to perform such a task, ("What if what you do makes
things worse?" "You have no right to interfere with God's will"
"No asteroid is going to hit -- that just represents a lot of bunk
intended to 'feather the nest' of already rich industrialists,"
"Isn't messing up the earth bad enough -- now you want to mess up
the ecology of the solar system?" etc.) and I infer that we stand

But I'm not terribly concerned; I see the odds against an
asteroid hit as sufficiently reassuring for the remainder of my
lifetime that worrying about it will not keep me up nights. So
far as I'm concerned, the two most important lessons to learn
relate to:

1: Sane choices do not come out of the 'convincing'-character
of unquantified rhetoric.
2: Passivity has consequences.

A third thing that we might recognize relates to
misunderstandings, on the part of probably most people in just
about any contemporary society you might mention, about how
science works. <sigh>


Richard Plourde ..

"The word is not the thing, the map is not the territory"