With Neil deGrasse Tyson, visiting a simulated asteroid under the sea
By Alex PasternackPosted 08.23.2012 at 10:20 am 5 Comments
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The possibility that Earth will be hit by an asteroid in our lifetime isn't huge. But here's the thing: the threat is so potentially catastrophic that even a small chance of impact – and the utterly apocalyptic waves that could subsequently erase entire coastlines – makes an asteroid one of those things that someone should probably be thinking about.
This morning at the California Academy of Sciences, a team of former astronauts, space scientists, NASA alums, and other concerned citizens of the solar system announced an unprecedented initiative to place a solar-orbiting telescope in deep space. The B612 Foundation wants to map the inner solar system's asteroid inhabitants and chart their orbits over the next hundred years. And to do so, it will build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission in the history of human spaceflight.
We haven't heard much about if from NASA yet, but the Telegraph is reporting that the space agency will soon begin training up an international crew of astronauts for a potential manned mission to an asteroid slated for later in the next decade.
Back on April 22, residents of California and Nevada had their day interrupted by a series of sonic booms and a huge daytime fireball in the sky, products of an incoming minivan-sized asteroid that came slamming into the atmosphere, breaking up on its way to the ground. The fireball ended its descent in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where some chunks of the asteroid have been recovered.
Billionaire-backed space startup Planetary Resources has officially unveiled its business plan to much fanfare and with few surprises. The company's principals--which include X-Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis, Space Adventures co-founder Eric Anderson, and former NASA Flight Director Chris Lewicki--today pledged that Planetary Resources would make the abundant resources of space available here on Earth, and introduced a couple of the company's own spacecraft that will make such space prospecting possible. The rush for space resources is officially on.
Presuming Planetary Resources builds a fleet of prospecting space telescopes, locates mineral-bearing space rocks, gets to them and successfully mines them, then what? Can a corporation lay claim to these protoplanetary leftovers, and can they really sell them? Or are they part of our common celestial heritage, priceless pieces of early creation that should be protected?
For a lot of reasons, the legal ramifications of today's asteroid mining announcement are almost as complex as the technological ones.