We’ve been warned by an asteroid. The next one might hit.

Reposted from The Fabius Maximus Blog

Larry Kummer, Editor Science & Nature 30 July 2019

Summary: We have had several near-misses – asteroids passing close by with little warning from our sensors. This reminds us that asteroid and comet impacts have changed the course of life on Earth, and will again unless we stop them. Which we will, eventually, either when we go deeper into space – or after we are hit. This post discusses this risk and what steps we can take now to better prepare. Perhaps it is humanity’s role to defend the planet.

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”
— Science fiction author Larry Niven, as quoted by Arthur C. Clarke.

Asteroid approaching Earth

We can’t say that we weren’t warned

WaPo: “‘It snuck up on us.’ Scientists stunned by ‘city-killer’ asteroid that just missed Earth.

How much would an asteroid impact hurt?

Even a small asteroid could devastate a city. What would impacts of different sizes do to your community? See the stunning results at Purdue U’s Impact Earth website. A presentation by NASA’s David Kring gives examples and consequences of impacts.

How likely is an impact? One could hit tomorrow.

The U.S. Government’s sensors recorded at least 556 meteors entering the atmosphere (fireballs, technically bolides) from 1994-2013. The largest in this record was a 20 meter asteroid near Chelyabins in central Russia on 15 February 2013 (details here), an explosion equivalent to 440- 500 kilotons of TNT.

The size of the dots on this NASA map represents the meteor’s optical radiant energy. The smallest dot on the map is 1 billion Joules (1 GJ), the equivalent of roughly 5 tons of TNT. The dots for 100, 10,000 and 1,000,000 GJ convert to 300 tons, 18,000 tons and one million tons of TNT. The Hiroshima blast was equivalent to 15,000 tons.

NASA map of bolide events

Scientists have accumulated enough data to estimate the odds of impacts from space.

“Every day Earth is bombarded with more than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles from space. About once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere, creating a spectacular fireball (bolide) event as the friction of the Earth’s atmosphere causes them to disintegrate – sometimes explosively.

“Studies of Earth’s history indicate that about once every 5,000 years or so on average an object the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage. Once every few million years on average an object large enough to cause regional or global disaster impacts Earth. Impact craters on Earth, the Moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences.

“Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, is evidence of the impact with Earth’s surface of a 50-meter asteroid about 50,000 years ago. Impact of the metal-rich object released energy equivalent to a 10 megaton explosion and formed a 1.2 kilometer-diameter crater.” {Source: NASA.}

The National Research Council published a typically magisterial analysis of this threat: “Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys & Hazard Mitigation Strategies“ (2010). Here are the numbers, comforting or terrifying, depending on your perspective. Thirty-five million years ago, a 5-8 km impactor blasted out the Popigai crater – at the time of the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event. The dinosaurs were killed by an object 11-81 km in diameter.

Frequency of asteroid impact on Earth, by size of object.

Books and films about how this happens and how we respond

Stories about collisions with space objects go back to the 19thC. Perhaps the best story about doom from the sky is When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1933). Earth is hit by a rogue planet. But there is good news!

An example of an optimistic science-fiction story in this genre is Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1973). A city is destroyed. Humanity says “never again” and creates Project Spaceguard – sending us into space. An ounce of prevention is worth …etc.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977) is gripping disaster porn about a comet hitting Earth. “Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival.”

Hollywood has given the inspiring stories about humanity defending the world against doom from space.

What can we do to prepare?

“Find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them.”
NASA’s Grand Challenge, 18 June 2013.

The Apollo program burned billions of dollars) but did little for America. Since then, the manned space program has done even less. The reason is simple: we lacked a good reason to put people in space. An asteroid or comet will eventually provide the motivation – either to prevent another impact or mitigate its effects. We have the technology and money to begin preparations.

Here are the four kinds of space threats, with warning times ranging from decades to days. Buying warning time is the key to preventing impacts or minimizing their damage, but it will take time to build the necessary sensor systems. As a first step, in 2016 NASA created the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Its staff supervises NASA’s programs to detect and track potentially hazardous objects, issues notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, and coordinates the US government’s efforts to prepare for impact threats. See their website, which has a wealth of information.

Other nations have similar programs. NASA is a member of the International Asteroid Warning Network.

What happens after we detect an object on a collision course with Earth? A presentation by NASA’s Dan Mazanek describes deflection strategies. This NASA video shows what a mission to intercept a threatening space object might look like.

The longer the warning time and the better the preparations, the higher the odds of success. Here are some ways to defend Earth: a Gravity Tractor, a Kinectic Impactor, and a Blast Deflection. This graphic shows which works best for various combinations of warning time and asteroid size. For short warning times, we can use only what we have ready to launch.

NRC - asteroid mitigation measuresFrom the NRC report (2010). Graphic by Tim Warchocki. Copyright © NAS.

A last note about these threats

“Estimates of the frequency of space-rock strikes are just estimates, and may not tell us anything about when the next impact will occur – it could be an eon, it could be tomorrow. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis are sure to happen more frequently, but humanity will survive these events; we might not survive an impact from space. Meanwhile, nothing can be done to prevent earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. But space strikes appear to be entirely avoidable, and not necessarily with “massive repositioning of government funding.” A fraction of the money NASA wants to waste on a moon base would likely be sufficient.”

— By Gregg Easterbrook in The Atlantic, September 2008.

Impact of comet or asteroid

For More Information

As a great starting point, see The Asteroid Day website. Especially this six-article series by Rusty Scheweickart (astronaut, aeronautical engineer, and fighter pilot). To learn about asteroids and the defense against objects from space, see their education page. If you prefer videos, see them here.

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about shockwave events, about NASA, about shockwaves, and especially these…

Why do we keep getting hit by these things?

Newton's ClockAvailable at Amazon.

The solar system is not in equilibrium. To learn why I recommend the brief and clearly written Newton’s Clock: Chaos in the Solar System by Ivars Peterson. From the publisher …

“Peterson explains a mystery that has fascinated and tormented astronomers and mathematicians for centuries: are the orbits of planets and other bodies stable and predictable or are there elements affecting the dynamics of the solar system that defy calculation? It is one of the most perplexing, unsolved issues in astronomy, with each step toward its resolution-from Newton’s clocklike mathematical models to the astonishing work of super computers exposing additional uncertainties and deeper questions about the stability of the solar system.

Newton’s Clock describes the development of celestial mechanics – from the star charts of ancient navigators to the great Renaissance scientists; from the crucial work of Poincare to the startling, sometimes controversial findings and theories made possible by modern mathematics and computer simulations. Equal parts science and history, the book shows how the exploration of the solar system has taken us from clocklike precision into chaos and complexity.”

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July 31, 2019 2:04 pm


The descriptions of “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” should be switched. Bruce Willis was in “Armageddon.” “Deep Impact” was the more accurate one.

Reply to  Larry Kummer
July 31, 2019 2:37 pm


Reply to  Larry Kummer
July 31, 2019 4:51 pm

Now listen young lady

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Larry Kummer
July 31, 2019 6:26 pm

Chelyabinsk Челябинск

Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 1, 2019 12:40 am

Chelyabinsk was much smaller.

What seems to get missed about 2019 OK is that we only missed it by 2.3 seconds.

NASA says it passed at 70,000km, ie inside the lunar orbit. but Earth is travelling through space at 30,000km/s .

That means is shot across our bows 2.3s before our paths would have collided. Now 2.3s may be just about enough time to brake when a child runs out in front of your car, but planet Earth has neither brakes nor steering. That is one VERY NEAR miss.

See - owe to Rich
Reply to  Greg
August 1, 2019 1:51 am

That’s an interesting and slightly scary statistic, but it does assume that the orbits intersected.

A more interesting question is “given that it was less than 48000 miles away, what is the probability that it would have hit us”? If the Earth was only a mile across then the answer would be tiny, but the Earth is 8000 miles across. So Earth, the bull’s eye, is 1/6 the diameter of the whole target, which is 1/36 the area, so that is a rough probability I would ascribe. (This does ignore the Earth’s gravitational attraction, which would increase the probability a little bit.)

Anyway, God threw two dice that day and they didn’t come up snake-eyes (double 1).

More precise backs-of-envelopes may be available!

Reply to  See - owe to Rich
August 1, 2019 11:29 am

Probability has little value in precise orbital mechanics.
The next position of the asteroid is not randomly generated from its current location. Error bands on the trajectory calculations are what’s important.
The trajectories are known with mathematical precision with less error than the diameter of Earth.
Back in the 1960’s we knew how to track and aim stuff to impact into very precise locations …from the Moon.
If the separation between orbital paths is less than the radius of the Earth + radius of the object they will collide if the timing allows.

See - owe to Rich
Reply to  See - owe to Rich
August 2, 2019 12:35 am

Ah, I didn’t mean probability in quite that way. That is, instead of the probability that this particular bolide would hit us given the error bars on its known orbit (which wasn’t known a week before anyway), I meant the expected proportion from a large collection of bolides known only to be coming within 48000 miles of Earth, of the ones that would hit. Whether that has any value or meaning to anyone is up for debate.

Reply to  Greg
August 1, 2019 5:14 am

Earth is travelling through space at 30,000km/s

No it isn’t:

Earth’s average orbital speed is about 30 kilometers per second. In other units, that’s about 19 miles per second, or 67,000 miles per hour, or 110,000 kilometers per hour (110 million meters per hour).

Reply to  Frank Davis
August 1, 2019 7:40 am

Absolutely true.
We move about the sun, and the sun moves about the center of the Milkyway, which in turn is moving through the universe. How all those velocity vectors add up will most assuredly not be the same as Earth’s orbit about the sun. BTW the Earth is also rotating as it translates.
On another note, these objects do not dive into Earth perpendicularly, they are often grazing by and very well may do more damage as they break-up and smear across a larger area.

Anyone who doubts the capability of Earth getting hit need only glance up at the sky to see impacted face of our only nearby shield, the Moon.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Greg
August 1, 2019 11:27 am

Eh, 30km/s is the average orbital velocity. So we missed it by 40 minutes, if its orbit crossed near enough to that of the Earth.

Chris Schoneveld
Reply to  Greg
August 1, 2019 12:21 pm

Speed is always measured relative to something. So what is your reference point?

Reply to  Greg
August 1, 2019 11:24 pm

No. Earth orbits the sun at 66,000mph or about 100,000km per HOUR.

July 31, 2019 2:21 pm

While I sort of disagree that Apollo did little for America or the manned space program has done even less, it is what has enabled us to now be able to begin some type of early warning and hopefully, some type of of useful defence. The earlier we can identify a serious risk, make a determination and respond with some sort of a reasonable defence plan, the better off we on the planet Earth will be. Having said that, I don’t think there is diddly squat what we could do now if we even know a serious big rock or comet had our name on it. But, if there is any reason to be in space at all, and one that commands that we spend even more to hone these skills on asteroid/comet deflection, then this is it. Anyway, the spin-off will be enormous not to mention no record in the history books of a collision with any such object. What is that worth?

Anna Keppa
Reply to  Earthling2
July 31, 2019 3:17 pm

I have to ask: just what is it that the space program over the years was supposed to “do for” America?

Please offer specifics.

Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 31, 2019 3:58 pm

The space program, especially that of the 1960’s Apollo program was a fast track development to a much more technologically advanced civilization, the one we enjoy today. Arguing what advanced civilization we would have had today if not for the advancements of science and technology of the 1960’s is akin to arguing with alarmists that if we had not burned so much fossil fuels, the weather and climate would be much safer today. Of course, nobody can really ‘prove’ anything about what would have been since we don’t have a 2nd planet Earth that would still be spinning along with CO2 at 280-300 ppmv pre 20th century to compare with. The same for the space age, and the cold war etc, but I would say the Internet is an off shoot of the space age/cold war. The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which was also paralleling the advancements of the huge spending budgets for both the space race and the cold war. And probably dozens, if not thousands of other examples that exist because of the expansion of technology and knowledge. This is just my humble opinion and everyone else is entitled to believe whatever they like, including the notion the whole Moon landing was faked and it was all a waste of money. But I don’t think anyone can argue that the 1960’s was a time of rapid expansion of knowledge and technology that was set in motion by the space race, which ultimately was a product of the cold war with the Russians.

Reply to  Earthling2
July 31, 2019 4:29 pm


Do you really believe that nobody has investigated the benefits from the manned space program? They have, and there is near-zero support for your guesses. Even NASA, uber-boosters of people in space, disagrees with you.

Look at the link I gave for links about this.

Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 12:55 pm

I looked at your links Larry, and I remain completely unconvinced. Probably the biggest reason why we need a manned space program in the long term scheme of things is to secure outer space for national security reasons, including military. While we don’t know the full scope of the military manned space missions since they are classified, I can only assume they will rise with whatever our adversaries (Russians and Chinese) are up too. Most of the civilian R&D we have done the last 60+ years is totally transferable to a manned military program even though the majority of R&D was done through civilian budgets like the Apollo program and the later Space Shuttle program. Which most of all said technology from the 1960’s directly benefited the military programs like the ICBM and other developments that led to other spin-offs like GPS, which was required to have an effective ICBM. The same technologies, even optical ones like Hubble and the intelligence gathering telescopes will ultimately be effective in spotting these killer space impactors and the rocket technology developments we made 50 years ago will be paramount in mounting any practical response.

While most of this future military defence would indeed be IA and automated robotics along with real time ground control, there will definitely be a manned Space Force in outer space for our longer term future, which President Trump even announced just last year. Depending what happens with China and their expansionist claims on the world, will probably determine how we in the West respond to said threats with our own manned space force. If the future fate of the world relies on the West having the technology and fortitude to stand up to our enemies that would bend us to their will from an advantageous platform from space, then I think every penny spent on manned space flight the last 60+ years was money worth well spent.

Reply to  Earthling2
July 31, 2019 4:32 pm

There is nothing that was developed for the space program that wasn’t already under development.
The money spent might have advanced some of them by a few months, however the money diverted from the economy slowed everything else down.

Reply to  MarkW
July 31, 2019 7:43 pm

How can anyone argue against such religious beliefs?

Bryan A
Reply to  MarkW
July 31, 2019 10:29 pm


Reply to  MarkW
August 1, 2019 7:57 am

How about rockets and rocket engines? They could certainly not have been developed without a space program, because by defacto they are the space program.

Absent a space program (and all of its space vehicles) what sort of system would you be proposing to intercept, deflect or destroy these potential threats.

It’s sadly the same as somebody complaining about guns demanding that charging attacker be shot …with what?

Reply to  Earthling2
July 31, 2019 4:52 pm

I would add to that, that the whole drive toward miniaturization, solid state circuitry, and the fabrication of light-weight materials began in the late 1950s through the 1960s to accommodate the needs of the space program. I can’t say just how much of a push the space program made for improving computers, but the development of computers made great use of the technology developed for the space program. Imagine the world today if we still used slide rules and vacuum tubes.

Reply to  jtom
July 31, 2019 8:50 pm

I would add to that, that the whole drive toward miniaturization, solid state circuitry, and the fabrication of light-weight materials began in the late 1950s through the 1960s to accommodate the needs of the space program.

No. If any government entity contributed to the “drive toward miniaturization” it would be the defense department, not NASA. The “drive toward miniaturization” was driven mostly by economics and reliability. The space program was a beneficiary of a rapidly evolving industry, not a driver.

Reply to  jtom
July 31, 2019 9:14 pm

The best guitar amps still use vacuum tubes, and if slide rules and 4 figure log tables were still used in school the youth of today would be far better at maths. Now they can’t give change from a dollar without a calculator or cash register spitting out the answer.

Reply to  jtom
August 1, 2019 7:25 am

Murph, I suppose you left the education of your children up to the public schooling.
I have a slide rule, but don’t use it. Both my children know advanced mathematics and neither as ever used a slide rule, but the do understand logarithms.

Light a few candles and stop cursing the darkness.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  jtom
August 1, 2019 8:08 am

jtom – July 31, 2019 at 4:52 pm

I would add to that, that the whole drive toward miniaturization, solid state circuitry, and the fabrication of light-weight materials began in the late 1950s through the 1960s to accommodate the needs of the space program.

Greg F got it correct. …….. You got it backward.

It was the miniaturization of the electronic circuitry (integrated circuits) that jump-started the “space program”. See Invention of the integrated circuit

And it was private companies like IBM and UNIVAC that were spending millions-of-dollars to develop and manufacture office equipment containing said integrated circuits that really pushed “the envelope” of IC designs. They were the “bread n’ butter” of the IC manufacturers, not the government.

Ron Long
Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 31, 2019 5:33 pm

Anna, it freaked out the USA military that Russia put sputnik into orbit first. There was a developing thought that satellite-based defense (offense?) would constitute holding the high ground. Putting men on the moon first established the USA as a leader in this potential and caused the Russians, and others, to back off. When President Reagan started the Star Wars ™ program it really freaked the others out. So, you get a double hit for your space adventure money, advancement of defense capability and establishing yourself as the technology leader. How many other nationalities have walked on the moon? Let’s go to Mars!

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Ron Long
August 1, 2019 12:41 am

The Space Race was a “race” for superiority of ideology, the Left eventually lost that race, Free Enterprise won it, the good Lord alone knows what would have happened had the Russians won it, demonstrating to the World that Left-wing ideology was superior, & that blood-thirsty mass-murdering tyrants like Lenin & Guevara were right! Just a thought!

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 31, 2019 7:15 pm

“I have to ask: just what is it that the space program over the years was supposed to “do for” America?”

The Space Program was aimed at enabling Americans and other human beings to live and work in space and we had to do things step by step as we gained experience and understanding.

There are a lot of good reason for humans to go to space. We have to learn how to do it first. That’s what the NASA space program was intended to do.

We can argue about the costs, but I don’t think we can argue about the goal of putting humans in space, especially since that might be the only way to preserve the human race and the other living things on the Earth.

NASA will eventually take a back seat to private industry in the development of space, but we needed NASA to do the basics and they did.

Now we need some visionaries in NASA leadership to set us some goals like returning to the Moon (done!); Sending Humans on to Mars (done!); and building infrastructure in orbit to defend the Earth from killer asteriods and comets (not done!), specifically, Solar-powered Lasers that can start pushing on asteriods without having to match orbits with the asteriod.

Btw, I saw a NASA design for a solar-powered laser to deflect asteriods but it was a small satellite with relatively small solar panels and a low-powered laser and it has to match orbits with the target in order to be of use. It’s better to have a high-powered SPS in the Earth/Moon orbit that can send a laser beam to reach out and touch a distant asteriod rather than having to waste the time and money required to match orbits with the target.

The Chinese say they will be putting a working Solar Power Satellite in orbit by the year 2030. Our visionary NASA leaders should decide they want to get there first and make an American SPS the first one in space. Surely you guys can get something in orbit in the next ten years. It didn’t take that long from John F Kennedy’s announcement of going to the Moon to getting there. The NASA of today ought to be able to do at least as well, since the road before them has been well plowed.

John Hardy
Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 31, 2019 11:12 pm
Reply to  Earthling2
July 31, 2019 3:43 pm


“While I sort of disagree that Apollo did little for America or the manned space program has done even less”

Every analysis I’ve seen comes to the same conclusion: the benefits of Apollo were small and the cost was large. Worse, most of the benefits usually given are false.

For details see: Why we have not gone into space, & why we will.


Craig from Oz
Reply to  Larry
July 31, 2019 10:58 pm


Had a look at your FM site. Good to see that you are in a position to live the blogging dream over topics you clearly care about. Anyway, read a few of the articles, including the ‘Obsolete Military’ one.

Your persuasion methods and techniques for structuring an argument are… interesting.

Probably best to just say that I am unlikely to ever cite you in a reference and leave it at that.

Michael S. Kelly, LS BSA, Ret
Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 2:03 am

I have to disagree, Larry. The Apollo program spelled the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. And it wasn’t Apollo 11 that clinched it; it was Apollo 12.

That mission had as an objective to land near Surveyor 3, an unmanned probe the US had sent to the Moon in 1967, and collect samples from it to (ostensibly) determine the effects of long-term exposure to the lunar environment on engineering materials.

First, we had to find it. That required the unclassified services of the Lunar Orbiter series of lunar satellites, which returned high-resolution imagery of potential Apollo landing sites. The US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ, then did a masterful job of matching Surveyor’s panoramic surface photography with the overhead images. At the time, Talent-Keyhole (our intelligence recon satellites) were a Top Secret Special Access program, but everyone assumed they existed. Lunar Orbiters were highly publicized.

In any event, we found Surveyor 3, and Apollo 12’s Lunar Module Intrepid landed 600 feet away from it.

From its inception, the Soviet Union falsified all of its unclassified cartography, so that any invading army that used publicly accessible maps would become hopelessly lost. Accurate maps were state secrets. Apollo 12 demonstrated that we didn’t need no stinkin’ maps.

The fact that we were able to hit a target 250,000 miles away, within just 600 feet, demonstrated to the Soviets (and everyone else), that no potential foe was safe anywhere. It was a huge revelation at the time, and the Soviets were way, way behind us.

So they embarked on the biggest arms buildup in their history, culminating in the deployment of 308 SS-18 missiles. They had us outgunned 6 to 1 in nukes, but it cost them their entire economy.

World War II cost the United States $321 billion in 1945 dollars, equivalent to $695 billion in 1969 dollars. We spent $25 billion in 1969 dollars on Apollo. I would say that just from a financial standpoint, Apollo saved us $670 billion of avoided costs from a WW-III. That’s if we survived WW-III.

So, yes, I think Apollo more than paid for itself. It’s true that almost none of the “spinoffs” were anything that would not have happened anyway, with the exception of the computer. The Apollo Guidance Computer (developed under a $500 million contract with MIT), introduced all of the standards we now see in computers – things like keyboard interface, RAM, ROM, registers, callable programs, subroutines, interrupts…you name it. None of them had names before, even if anyone had thought of them. But Apollo brought them to a mature state within the constraints of the hardware at the time.

NASA’s impact was made long ago, and was enormous and quite beneficial. The psyche of the United States was in shambles in 1968. But Apollo 8 “rescued 1968.” Apollo 11 was so stupendous an event that, when I toured Europe in August of 1969, everyone (including the French) treated we Americans as gods. After Apollo 12, though, NASA could have been retired, with no regrets.

As for my bona fides, I have worked on intercontinental ballistic missile development (Peacekeeper and Small ICBM) and space launch systems for the past 40 years. I was also business associates with Pete Conrad (Commander of Apollo 12) when he was forming Universal Spacelines, and have known several of the past NASA Administrators – best of all Dan Goldin, for whom I worked at TRW. I have also known a few of the NASA Chief Historians, and am thus well aware of the fact the the search for “spinoff” impact has been futile when it comes to actual technology benefit. And I just retired as Chief Engineer of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly, LS BSA, Ret
August 1, 2019 10:32 am

Michael S. Kelly, The story of Apollo 12 landing right beside Surveyor was new to me, thanks for that! As for computers, is it really true that Apollo and related space program developments advanced them that far? I had thought that it was the nuclear weapons programs that were the big deal there?

If it is true that we got to mainframes, PC’s, smartphones, etc. even 10 years sooner, say, because of Apollo, I would think that would easily justify 25 billion 1969 dollars worth of government expenditure? Plus of course, if I follow your “Surveyor landing” story, it helped lead the Russians to financial exhaustion, forcing the demise of the old Soviet Union, etc., that was worth a lot!

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  David Blenkinsop
August 1, 2019 4:48 pm

There’s a lot on the AGC. Here’s a popular magazine rendition: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/underappreciated-power-apollo-computer/594121/

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  David Blenkinsop
August 3, 2019 11:17 am

Following your Atlantic mag “The Underappreciated Power of … ” link, I just have to say “holy Smoke”! So, it was the doing of the team of computer software engineers led by Margaret Hamilton, their ‘fly by wire system’ that Neil Armstrong had to depend on to land the LEM! Contrary to accounts I had heard before, there was no such thing as a purely manual landing? According to this article, the essential software running on the LEM guidance computer, i.e, “The Interpreter” virtualization, was able to correctly prioritize the essential guidance of the the lander, by shoving an irrelevant error to the back of the queue.

So this computer software “baby” of programmers like Margaret Hamilton and J. Halcombe Laning was an absolutely essential part of a successful landing! Now that computers are more powerful in the hardware sense than they were in the 60’s, I wonder what miracles would ensue if only the progress of software could somehow keep up?

If I take a quick look at the Wikipedia article on Computer multitasking, there is *another* possibly technically related 1969 milestone that pops up at me, where the article says ” Preemptive multitasking was implemented in the PDP-6 Monitor … in 1964 .. and in Unix in 1969 .. .”

So, quite a lot was going on, so much so that the exact amount of positive impact of the space program would be hard to prove! Even the rollout of the first PC, the Altair (then later, multitasking PC’s), could have been encouraged by the Apollo program, but we could also make the contrary case, that computer development would have rolled on in any event?

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly, LS BSA, Ret
August 1, 2019 11:57 am

They landed 600 feet away so their landing rocket wouldn’t cover the target with dust.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  TomB
August 1, 2019 3:15 pm

Actually, they had no idea where they were putting down until after they had landed. It was completely automatic, and the accuracy was just random…but good.

Reply to  Earthling2
August 1, 2019 7:49 am

Earthling, anyone who says the space program has done nothing for America, is either ignorant or disingenuous (and probably both).
The space program, NOT JUST APOLLO, allows us to even begin to discuss this topic. This entire discussion would not be occurring without it.
Such an utterance could have equally been stated about the first boat builder who sailed out into uncharted waters millennia ago: “What does Grog think he’s doing wasting all his time on that silly log thing when he should be out clubbing food!”

July 31, 2019 2:24 pm

To get the political left to pay attention, you need to make this actual existential threat look more like the imaginary threats they obsess about. Emphasize that the climate forcing from an impact event will disproportionally affect the third world and then call a white man with orange hair a racist for not trying hard enough to prevent it.

Stan A Christman
July 31, 2019 2:48 pm

What about a warning for a black hole coming into the vicinity? Evidently, the LIGOS observations tell us there are many, many more of them wandering around than previously imagined.

Reply to  Stan A Christman
July 31, 2019 4:32 pm


As the various proposals say, building defenses is a matter of step by step slow improvements. Full detection is probably a long way in the future. Effective defenses even further out.

Reply to  Stan A Christman
August 1, 2019 1:25 am

A black hole or a mutant star-goat? They’re equally likely.

Mark Broderick
July 31, 2019 2:51 pm
July 31, 2019 2:53 pm

Armageddon is one of the best bad science fiction movies! My favorite scene is Bruce Willis driving golf balls at the protestors… 🙂

Meteor (AKA Barringer) Crater is well-worth a trip to Arizona. For anyone interested in the geology, David Kring has an excellent field guide.


Rud Istvan
Reply to  David Middleton
July 31, 2019 4:47 pm

Been there, done that, with whole family. Truly impressive

Reply to  David Middleton
July 31, 2019 5:36 pm

I’m so old I once climbed to the bottom of Meteor Crater before liability lawyers and government wogs decided we all need to be protected from everything. It is truly an awesome feature. Have a bag of meteor fragments I picked up with a magnet along the road out front. Well worth visiting still!

Reply to  JimG1
July 31, 2019 9:11 pm

Wow, I never thought of that when I visited. Must remember if I go again.

The wikipedia page is quite good reading:


Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  David Middleton
August 1, 2019 9:45 am

My favorite airline pilot joke of all time was delivered during a Southwest flight from LA to El Paso circa 2005. He came on and said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re sitting on the right side of the aircraft you can see Meteor Crater. That’s where a giant meteor crashed into the Earth 50,000 years ago, leaving a mile-wide crater. And look! It just missed that house!”

For some reason I was the only person on the plane who guffawed.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
August 1, 2019 9:55 am

Some SWA pilots and flight attendants are hilarious.

Once during the safety lecture, a flight attendant said,”In the event of the loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the compartment above you. If you’re travelling with a small child… Why” She had several great sarcastic remarks.

Dave N
July 31, 2019 2:57 pm

The descriptions for Deep Impact and Armageddon are reversed

Reply to  Dave N
July 31, 2019 3:36 pm


See the very first comment posted.

July 31, 2019 3:10 pm

12,900 years ago, North and South America suffered an extinction event. https://cometresearchgroup.org/comets-diamonds-mammoths/#impact-overview

Tom Halla
July 31, 2019 3:10 pm

The left usually has some other project they wish to fund, so the space program was strangled. Remember Proxmire?
Or Obama doing away with the shuttle, despite not having a replacement. They are aided by the luddite portion of the green blob.

Nicholas McGinley
July 31, 2019 3:11 pm

NASA just cancelled plans for a telescope that would have been a big step forward in finding space rocks that might hit Earth.
I have never seen them cancel a single thing having to do with their climate shenanigans.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
July 31, 2019 4:41 pm


“NASA just cancelled plans for a telescope that would have been a big step forward in finding space rocks that might hit Earth.”

NASA’s satellite budget was been slashed by the Trump administration. The Sentinel Spaced telescope was canceled, but so were many other satellites.


“I have never seen them cancel a single thing having to do with their climate shenanigans.”

Several climate science satellites were also cancelled.

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 2:18 am

Several climate science satellites were also cancelled.

Come on. You know why, don’t you?

A Cross
Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 7:02 am

So where does this catastrophe event rank compared to running out of fossil resources, overpopulation without food, civil war/invasion, GMO plant extinction or super nova. From your explanation it appears that the odds are out there. I am not arguing take it off the list, but I see that you are ranked lower for funding. I am concerned that overexagerating your pet FUD is not helping you.

A Cross
Reply to  A Cross
August 1, 2019 7:06 am

Wandering Planet is Chinese food using mountain size fusion engines to move Earth to another solar system because of Sol upcoming nova.

July 31, 2019 3:15 pm

I saw “When Worlds Collide”. It was really not bad at all.

NASA FT3 is heading our way now. It should be here by October. Exact dates vary, but they’ll get settled. It’s a big, fat one.

If Jupiter had not attracted the Shoemaker-Levy comet, which left a strong impression on the atmosphere of Jupiter, we might not have WUWT to look at now. 🙂

July 31, 2019 3:26 pm

It seems to me a Moon Base would be a better place than Earth from which to launch an asteroid interdiction vehicle. But, sustaining such a base would be difficult and expensive, and said base would be vulnerable to impacts unimpeded by an atmosphere.

Reply to  brians356
July 31, 2019 4:44 pm


We are a long long way from building any bases from which to launch interdiction missions. When we get to that point, tech might give us new options.

The task now is to build detection systems – and then some simple interdiction tools. Even those will require a lot of work. Years, perhaps decades.

Reply to  Larry
July 31, 2019 10:01 pm

There is an assumption that the major space powers would work together on such a project. I think it’s unlikely the Chinese would share. If only they possessed the technology, they would naturally attempt to prevent extinction-level events. However, they might also let city killers go if these were headed toward the US. Alternatively, they might demand incredible sums of money to interdict.

Asteroid detection and intervention systems are partly military in nature.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Adam
August 1, 2019 9:53 am

I doubt the Chinese would sit on their hands as an asteroid destroyed a US city. Such an event would plunge the entire world into economic depression, not just the US, and they know it. They also couldn’t ignore the potential world-wide ecological impacts. Besides, when something is years out (still potentially interdictable), it’s not possible to tell exactly when it will hit, and thus where. So the Chinese, and everybody else for that matter, would have to assume it could be them.

Al Miller
July 31, 2019 3:37 pm

Does this not make it crystal clear that mankind MUST dispense with the stupidity that is AGW and get on with real threats that exist. It’s criminal and stupid the time and energy being wasted on a political agenda when so much really needs doing!!!

July 31, 2019 3:37 pm

Trying to scare people?

The statistics that matters is that for the past 1000 years no human has been known to to have been killed by a meteorite or by the effects of one impacting.

So we talk again about this in 1000 years, ok?

Now you want a real threat, go look at pandemics. The more people the merrier the killer bugs. Add flights for near instant global dissemination and there you have a really scary scenario. Just a flu killed 3-5% of the population in 1918. That would be about 300 million people today, or the equivalent to four WWII. A pandemic with the mortality of the Black Death makes any meteorite scenario look silly. It was only 700 years ago. The idea that we could get an effective vaccine developed, mass produced and supplied to 7.5 billion people in time is nice, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Reply to  Javier
July 31, 2019 7:17 pm


“The statistics that matters is that for the past 1000 years no human has been known to to have been killed by a meteorite or by the effects of one impacting. So we talk again about this in 1000 years, ok?”

That’s not how statistics works. It is certainly not how risk management works.

Both are well-developed fields. I suggest reading to learn about them.

Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 7:00 am

Whichever way you slice it, something that hasn’t killed a single human in 1000 years isn’t likely to kill anybody alive today.

Reply to  Javier
August 1, 2019 12:58 pm
July 31, 2019 3:53 pm

but, but, asteroids will cause climate change ! 😉

Reply to  Streetcred
July 31, 2019 4:47 pm


Wow. That might be the way to get the Left on board – defenses against space objects are protection against severe climate change!

Reply to  Streetcred
August 1, 2019 3:59 am

Yeah, they will! Long, long winter, no spring, no summer, not for several decades!!! That’s after the fire IF there is one. No guarantee of a fire. More likely to be LOTS of pulverized soil tossed into the atmosphere.

Go back to hunting the deer herds and waterfowl for food, fish the lakes for food – oh, wait – we already do.

Esther Cook
July 31, 2019 4:00 pm

A couple decades ago, I was studying Evolution, and read a book called Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? by David M. Raup. David was struck by the fit-looking fossils and said extinctions killed “fit and unfit, and mostly fit.” It was “survival of the luckiest.” After reading it, I realized that this is how it is in normal good times, too. Mostly survival (reproduction) of the luckiest, but sometimes it is more than luck, and this we term fitness.

A dramatic chapter discussed what we could do about it if faced with a space rock today. The first problem is detection. We can see comets heading inwards in the solar system as lights that move against the fixed stars. But an object heading directly toward Earth DOES NOT MOVE. This is why NASA keeps missing them.

The solution is a Hubble telescope farther out. First we should build one toward the edge of the near side of the moon. A second and maybe third one could be built at wide angles for more information. It might be cheaper to move Hubble to lunar orbit.

Then it is time to go for Mars. When we went to the moon, we built the craft in pieces or stages: first the giant Atlas to escape Earth, then lesser stages to shift from Earth orbit to lunar orbit, then a detachment of the moon lander from the Earth-return rocket.

The return to space should also be in pieces: we have rockets and shuttles for leaving Earth and going to orbit. Now we should have a nice contest to build Earth-orbit-to-lunar-orbit-and-back shuttles, powered by nuclear power (the research was done in the 1960’s. It should be possible to throw construction equipment onto the moon from two of these, while the third should dock human moon landers. Then we can build a moon base and moon telescope.

The next step is three or four Earth-Mars shuttles. When we get to the human landers, we will need a much more powerful rocket to escape Mars’ gravity than the moon’s. Then we can build a Mars base and a Mars telescope. The Mars base must not be at low elevation, because it will be very historic, and our descendants won’t want anything damaged when we shuttle ice from the asteroids to Mars to build seas and terraform Mars. We might want to use the orbital shuttles to move a Hubble to orbit Mars.

The Mars telescope will give us realistic views of Earth-heading objects.

Reply to  Esther Cook
July 31, 2019 7:19 pm


I suggest you read some of the links provided. Some smart experts have put a lot of thought into this.

No need to “reinvent the wheel.”

July 31, 2019 4:12 pm

‘This reminds us that asteroid and comet impacts have changed the course of life on Earth, and will again unless we stop them.’

Rank paranoia. Junk science. The chances of your town being struck by a significant space object approaches zero. The earth has a surface area of 500,000,000 sq km. Mostly uninhabited. Bring it on!

Worry about murder, lightning, tornadoes, car accidents, plane crashes, boreal fires. Something real.

Hocus Locus
Reply to  Gamecock
July 31, 2019 6:54 pm

I believe that failure to consider a confirmed and inevitable existential threat as a special case that is beyond the useful application of statistics and probability… is a mental disorder. I suggest this so you may be better able to identify those afflicted, people you’d never suspect. This topic really flushes them out.

Reply to  Hocus Locus
July 31, 2019 7:24 pm

Hocus Locus,

Lots of focus can see life only in terms of them and their neighborhood. The need to prepare for larger threats is beyond their ability to see.

Reply to  Gamecock
July 31, 2019 7:22 pm


Wow. You appear a bit confused about how numbers work, and with near-zero knowledge of risk management.

I suggest you read some of the links provided. You’ll learn a lot. But you won’t, of course.

Reply to  Larry
August 1, 2019 3:14 pm

Nope. Sure won’t. Paranoia is not my thing. Y’all enjoy it.

Reply to  Gamecock
August 1, 2019 2:13 am

“Something real.”

Bolide impacts are very real.

A Chicxulub-class impact would kill 7,000,000,000 people and happen about once in 100,000,000 years. A Chesapeake-class impact happens every few million years and would kill a few hundred million people.

So the risk is small but real, I would say about of the same order as being killed in an aircraft accident or an earthquake (the latter may be somewhat higher in Southern California).

Bruce Cobb
July 31, 2019 4:27 pm

The definition of irony: while mankind is busy preparing for and trying to prevent a fake disaster, a real disaster strikes.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
July 31, 2019 5:27 pm


“while mankind is busy preparing for and trying to prevent a fake disaster, a real disaster strikes.”

That’s a powerful point. For example, while we worry about visions of the climate in 2100 according to speculative models, the oceans are being destroyed right now.


John Robertson
July 31, 2019 4:39 pm

But that is so “racist” How dare people point out that the Human race can be erased by a random rock?
We would rather huddle at the bottom of this gravity well,pulling down all who would seek to break free.
Waiting for the asteroid.
Welfare for non citizens is infinitely more important than being able to counter a real and known danger..
Sarc? I do not know anymore.
The moon race brought forth a burst of new technology just as the world wars before it did.
At a significantly lower cost than war.
A moon base is an essential step in freeing ourselves from this trap.
Now hard radiation and lack of adequate shielding are a definite danger to healthy young men.
So why don’t we send up the geriatric division?
Those of us well past our biological “Best before” date could do wonders for building in conditions that will ultimately kill.
But 1/6 earth gravity and a new challenge are mighty attractive to some people.
And we know we must face this challenge,for currently, There is no place else to go.

J Mac
Reply to  John Robertson
July 31, 2019 9:43 pm

Just so, John. Just so….

July 31, 2019 4:46 pm

Earth orbit is halfway to anywhere. The obvious choice is putting your interceptors on an orbital platform. No worries about what other countries will think about someone militarizing space and putting nukes in orbit. (really, trust me)
Anyway, there are two distinct problems:
1) Stop something the size of what caused Meteor Crater in AZ.
2) Stop something like what killed the dinosaurs 65 mya.

Also note that “city killers” in the 20 kT to 20 mT blast yield range, it might be plausible to do something about them.
I also note that for the chances of Paris or New York getting nailed, there is an equal chance of Tehran or Islamabad getting hit, and a vastly greater chance that it just fries a lot of fish.

Reply to  TonyL
July 31, 2019 7:30 pm


“The obvious choice is putting your interceptors on an orbital platform.”

The next step is building detection systems. Public pressure is needed to take even small steps for that.
There are no viable proposals to do more at this time.

“I also note that for the chances of Paris or New York getting nailed, there is an equal chance of Tehran or Islamabad getting hit,”

That’s the kind of thinking that will send us to the trash heap at warp speed.

“a vastly greater chance that it just fries a lot of fish.”

I suggest you use the Purdue website to look at different impacts. Tsunamis can be very destructive.

Hocus Locus
July 31, 2019 5:02 pm

From a letter I send out, comments welcome

One Earth defense strategy is not burdened with warhead concepts or frivolous accessories. It makes use of our Cold War and NASA expertise but contains no actual warhead. It is directly tied to Apollo and gaining a permanent foothold on the Moon.
To divert or destroy a threatening object with any assurance, you must do to it what it is trying to do to you, first. Kinetically impact it by sending an armada of smart heavy things to meet it soonest with as much multiplicity, precision, combined mass and anger, as possible. Each ‘thing’ is a rocket launched from a battery on the Moon, carrying a heavy mass-payload of simple lunar dust. Each must operate alone, or swarm intelligently to avoid others or meet objectives such as targeting a part of the object (if that is even possible) or flying in formation to coordinate moment of contact.
But here’s the key: there must be hundreds, even thousands of them… each loaded with ballast and ready to fly at a moment’s notice, receive a mission en route. The armada must form waves, each salvo capable of re-assessing last-minute objectives without delay of communication with base… such as a ‘re-swarm’ to target individual fragments of an object as it splits.
We supply the technology, the Moon supplies the mass, a place to stand, and light gravity to launch a populous armada with least fuel. Every developed country must help build this. It must be standard and modular, and should be functional soon. This is what humans must do to protect their cherished worlds.
‘Soon’ has always been the only responsible way to deal with an existential threat. Even a successful interception of a dinosaur-killer involves a meteor shower and impacted fragments to Earth. But in place of extinction of most life, hopefully it would just be an exciting day. Earth defense armadas must launch from the Moon to ensure the multiplicity and mass to get the job done. We never had the luxury of sorting through ideas as years go by, and doing nothing at all. Pray that we have not lost the race already.
All we need do now is take the next Lunar step with a clear goal in mind. New Apollo and the other space programs around the world should immediately go ‘heavy’ with concerted effort to establish Moon bases and combined framework for supply and operations on the Moon, to build a kinetic missile battery.
If anyone suggests that such awesome destructive power should never be placed in the hands of men, staff it with women.
Apollo was America’s chance to be daring. Earth Defense, Delivered, is our tribute to the living Earth as we accept the mantle as steward to Gaia. Even Scripture ordains this. Carl Sagan posed that as soon as the atom is split every species enters a stage of nuclear adolescence. People keep saying, once the nukes and other weapons are all gone that adolescence will be over. People are full of shit. The way past adolescence is not to forget history and unmake things, it is to focus on loftier goals and reshape our tools.
The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.
~Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Reply to  Hocus Locus
August 1, 2019 2:20 am

Kinetic impactors are risky. Many asteroids are “rubble piles” only held together very weakly by gravity. A cloud of smaller object impacting isn’t necessarily any better than one big one.

For such objects a gravity tug is preferable if there is time, otherwise a nuclear deflector (which works by vaporizing a suface layer of one whole side of the object).

Flight Level
July 31, 2019 5:18 pm

Nothing to worry about, we are all doomed on a 12 years lease.

Jack Daseler
July 31, 2019 5:42 pm

Whenever I see the term ‘near miss’, I always think of an old George Carlin routine about airplanes – they are not ‘near misses’, they are ‘near hits’ – the wording is backwards!

July 31, 2019 5:52 pm

NASA is far to busy with the weather, ensuring diversity and funding jets flying through the Star Wars canyon to worry about this asteroid nonsense.

Reply to  yarpos
July 31, 2019 6:17 pm


That’s an important point. We don’t need a second NOAA. We would be better off shifting NASA’s cli ate work to NOAA and refocus NOAA on space.

July 31, 2019 6:14 pm

I think Apollo did a lot for America, and would have done more if it had been continued. What has done almost nothing for America is the wasteful, useless, low Earth orbit stuff we have done since Apollo. After Apollo we should have worked on building a base on the Moon and continuing on to Mars.
I don’t believe any plan as what to do if we find an asteroid threatening the Earth has any chance of working except in the world of science fiction.

Reply to  TomT
July 31, 2019 6:19 pm


The many studies about the benefits of Apollo disagree with you.

See debunking of some common claims here:


July 31, 2019 6:35 pm
michael hart
July 31, 2019 6:51 pm

Don’t forget Comet in Moominland, Tove Jansson’s second novel. Published in 1946, it is rather more convincing than the current global warming predictions. And while the comet did arrive, preceded by significant global warming, the Professors at the Observatory on the Lonely Mountains turned out to have made a slightly incorrect prediction: The comet missed the Earth altogether and they lived happily ever after.

The Groke, who totally freezes everything she touches, first appears in the following novel.

Tim Beatty
July 31, 2019 6:59 pm

This sounds like climate scientists that want money. How about…No.

Gary Pearse
July 31, 2019 7:19 pm

I find it ridiculous to say the space program did little. I suspect the origins of this notion will be the left’s worldview which pollutes the internet “progressively” more each day. Newton’s work did ‘nothing’ by this measure. We weren’t technologically capable to make much use of it for several centuries.

The Wright Brothers made a stupid toy that only flew a 100ft. What possible contribution could this idiotic device make to mankind. The first steam locomotive was a pretty pathetic toy made by a mining engineer. He should have been fired for playing on company time.

Okay, so you want a space program. Do you jerrybuild a rocket full of alcohol and fire it off to take a man to Mars? No we better work on a vehicle until we have something that can do the job and hopefully land safely, first. Maybe its a good idea to send something to orbit earth if we can and test it and refine it. Maybe we should then put a man in it and try it out -hey that’s radical! So if we want to travel in space, let’s think of a place not to far away and see ….

I was born before WWII and went into engineering because of Sputnik! You have no idea what the space program did to boost academic and private research and development. You have no idea what it did for creating a can do spirit.

You can probably guess what it did to the social sciences that took the opposite tack bewailing the forgone better good that might have been achieved in distributing wealth to the poor, blah, blah … (we already had a track record of distributing countless billions to thieving despots who bought palaces in France and New York York realestate – Mobutu was a past master).

Now, in the golden age of Fake News having links to click on the subject isn’t reassuring. The oceans indeed.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 31, 2019 8:17 pm

My thoughts exactly, Gary. Well said!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 31, 2019 8:54 pm


As an engineer, apply that rigor of thought to your own comment. There have been many studies about the benefits of the manned space program. None agree with you. NASA doesn’t even make such big claims anymore.

Also note the lack of specifics in your comment.

” so you want a space program.”

Rigor, Gary. We’re talking about the manned space program. Putting instruments into space has proven value. This distinction was clear from the start, and the two commissions examining prospects for space clearly said that instruments had great value.

“You have no idea what the space program did to boost academic and private research and development.”

It drained funds from projects of far higher potential, as was predicted at the beginning.

“You have no idea what it did for creating a can do spirit.”

And your evidence of that is….? Be an engineer and show us rigorous reasoning.

“in the golden age of Fake News having links to click on the subject isn’t reassuring. ”

So you think you know more than NASA about this (ie, NASA debunks many of the specific claims made), and that your unsupported big claims should be taken as fact? Fake News is people doing as you are doing – talking without given a shred of evidence.

Reply to  Larry
July 31, 2019 9:53 pm

Larry, Gary was expressing an opinion based on his experience living through that period as I did. He was not creating a scientific paper or a legal brief. Your comments are your opinion. That is one of the purposes of the comment section of this wonderful blog.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 31, 2019 9:47 pm

Gary, I can completely agree with everything you have said above.

While I always had been a “tech geek” and wanted to be an engineer before Sputnik, that event motivated our high school Math and Science teachers at my high school in Ohio (class of 1955 ) to decide to ratchet up the level of their classes for those of us planning to go to college. Their preparation helped me survive a tough electrical engineering program, graduate with a BSEE and go work for a large computer company that, among other things, developed the computers for the Apollo spacecraft.

The space program motivated all of us involved in technology development during this period to up our game and believe in the work we were doing, whether it be in the space program, research or commercial development. This was very important in the generally negative period following the Korean War.

Such a program could do the same today.


July 31, 2019 7:31 pm

Dollar for dollar, getting and reading a used copy of Lucifer’s Hammer has more value than another governmentental/scientific boondoggle.

These rocks have been flying past Earth for more years than there has been people. Because we just now notice shouldn’t stampede us into another wasteful spending spree. Too close to “Climate Science” for me.

July 31, 2019 7:46 pm

How can anyone argue against such religious beliefs?

Reply to  GPHanner
July 31, 2019 8:56 pm

GP Hammer,

What “religious beliefs”?

Cliff Hilton
July 31, 2019 7:47 pm

Fires, famines, floods, wars, earthquakes, rivers turning to blood, oceans turning to blood, locus and the like are far greater concerns. Falling rocks don’t rate a vote.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Cliff Hilton
July 31, 2019 7:52 pm

You are failing to make the distinction between sheer fantasy, and low probability events with severe consequences.

Cliff Hilton
Reply to  Tom Halla
August 1, 2019 6:02 am


I don’t know which is more fanciful, believing we men can caught a falling star or accepting the fact water turned to blood and that water was turned to wine.

Some put faith in the mortal man.

I am never surprised at the rejection of God, the Creator. Let me know if you change your mind when you stand in his presence. We all will.

Amos E. Stone
Reply to  Cliff Hilton
August 1, 2019 12:18 pm

I too am ‘never surprised at the rejection of God’. You believe I will be surprised when I’m looking at St Peter. This is a science blog ( I hope). Maybe I’ll stop there.

High Treason
July 31, 2019 10:57 pm

The left actually WANT a mass culling of humans. The term “sustainable development” is code for a stable population of humans of 500 million. Thus, 94% of us are surplus to requirements. At my age, being white, straight, male, climate skeptic, educated, love ridiculing the left, activist etc, I am on the chopping block.
You could just bet that when some 2km wide asteroid is detected, infighting on how to deal with it will delay mitigation until it is too late. I can see the bleeding hearts saying breaking it up before it hits the atmosphere will mean multiple destructive impacts. What the bleeding hearts are too daft to recognize is that when a single large impact breaches the crust and gets to the mantle, it will create a massive rupture on the opposite side of the planet, with sulphur emissions and volcanism that will create the sort of post nuclear winter that would drive humans to extinction. The Siberian traps were almost certainly created this way. Better to have a thousand potentially city destroying impacts than a single one that stuffs the planet for any life form larger than a cockroach. Besides, the additional surface area of a pre fractured bolide has a larger percentage ablated away.

July 31, 2019 11:30 pm

“Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, is evidence of the impact with Earth’s surface of a 50-meter asteroid about 50,000 years ago. Impact of the metal-rich object released energy equivalent to a 10 megaton explosion and formed a 1.2 kilometer-diameter crater.” {Source: NASA.}

I clicked on that NASA link:
The first sentence is confirmed by that webpage, and that it is 1.2 km diameter.
The second sentence is not. The words “megaton” and “metal” do not appear in that web page.

That huge crater was just 10 megaton? Really? What are we up to now, 100? 200 megaton nukes?

One megaton is equivalent to 4.18 x 10^15 joules. (source atomicarchive.com)

10^6 GJ = 10^15 J

Steve Taylor
Reply to  Toto
August 1, 2019 10:05 am

The biggest ever detonated on earth would probably be the Tsar Bomba, which topped the scales at 50MT. It was apparently designed to be capable of 100MT.

Reply to  Toto
August 3, 2019 6:13 am

The US’s current largest nuke is 1.2 Mt. I think that is the B83 dial-a-yield. It was scheduled to be dismantled by 2010 or so. But that never happened. Almost all of our other nukes are 1Kt-175Kt dial-a-yield.
The last nuclear weapon built in the US was in 1989.

July 31, 2019 11:34 pm

“an object the size of a football field ”

What sort of football? Rugby? FIFA? Australian Rules? They have different sizes of pitch. And the AR one is oval.

Viktor Vasylyev
August 1, 2019 12:13 am

Actually, most of proposed approaches to planetary defense are neither effective nor scalable even to asteroids capable of country-wide destruction. For example, it is unlikely that the kinetic impact will work because of the internal structure of near-Earth asteroids is crumbly: “We think they’re very loose aggregates. They’re not solid through and through” said Melissa Morris, OSIRIS-REx deputy program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The detailed photos and probe impacting of Bennu and Ryugu reveal rubble-pile natural properties of the NEOs, which will prevent shock wave propagation and proper impulse transfer.

The nuclear blast method is risky and can pose danger both on the ground and in the atmosphere. This type of explosion could potentially create a stream containing hundreds of “city-killing” radioactive pieces, e.g., in the case of disintegrating a sub-km asteroid. Moreover, as follows from computer simulations, shortly after explosion all of the pieces will tend to settle towards the center of mass, which would still be headed on a collision with the Earth.

The asteroid laser ablation method is not viable because of cooling concerns for powerful (over 100 W) lasers. In space, the laser source will not have a means to radiate heat quickly enough to avoid damage to itself.

As of now, it appears that asteroid ablation using highly concentrated sunlight is the only method that meets all of the following criteria: scalability up to global-threat sizes and any type of hazardous bodies owing to maximum thrusting power without huge volume of propellant, as well as low cost and environmental friendliness. This method creates thrust similar to the laser ablation method, creating a natural rocket out of the asteroid, without the power and heating concerns.

An improved concept for such solar-based deflection using an innovative solar collector was proposed and substantiated in 2013 – see https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11038-012-9410-2
and also a short demo-video

Reply to  Viktor Vasylyev
August 1, 2019 2:33 am

You apparently don’t know how a nuclear deflection would work. It is not a matter of blasting the asteroid apart. Instead the nuclear charge(s) are set off some distance from the asteroid. In space the fission/fusion energy will go almost completely into radiation and high-speed ions which ablate one side of the asteroid and the reaction from the ablated material will change the orbit of the object.

Surprisingly this is a much less violent method than kinetic impact and as it will affect one whole “hemisphere” of the object is unlikely to break it up.

The optimal method is gravity tugs, but this is very slow and will require a very long warning time.

For comets the warning time will always be short and nuclear deflection the only pracical alternative.

Viktor Vasylyev
Reply to  tty
August 1, 2019 6:21 am

Regarding the inefficiency of the impact method – see:
Deflecting by kinetic impact: sensitivity to asteroid properties

Bruck Syal, Megan; Michael Owen, J.; Miller, Paul L.

Icarus, Volume 269, p. 50-61, 2016.
(In this model, asteroid Golevka (approximately 500 meters across) is impacted by a 10,000 kilogram mass roving during 10 kilometers per second along a principal pivot of a asteroid. The final change in asteroid quickness for this instance is approximately 1 millimeter (!!!) per second).
Non-destructive explosion (insufficiently powerful) will have a similar (weak) result, and powerful one is only an increase in danger …
The gravity tug is really very slow (it is obvious), therefore I emphasize again: «most of proposed approaches to planetary defense are neither effective nor scalable even to asteroids capable of country-wide destruction». So it appears that the solar approach is the best. Is not it?

Viktor Vasylyev
Reply to  Viktor Vasylyev
August 2, 2019 7:42 am

In addition to my previous reply.
Well-known estimates show that in order to sufficiently divert the sub-kilometer asteroid with a warning time of less than a year, it is necessary to vaporize up to several hundred thousand tons of its material, which should fly off in approximately one direction (jet-type ejection). Such mass corresponds to a layer thickness around ten centimeters on the half surface of the asteroid. This is possible with prolonged local ablation using highly concentrated sunlight, which is able to burn out a “hole” or “trench” on a rotating asteroid about a meter deep in just one hour. However, this is not possible even with a series of distant and impulse fission/fusion explosions that vaporize (due to both particles and electromagnetic radiation) a thin layer of the surface with subsequent chaotic ejection of material in all directions from the convex and too uneven surface of the target.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Viktor Vasylyev
August 1, 2019 5:10 pm

Viktor wrote: “The asteroid laser ablation method is not viable because of cooling concerns for powerful (over 100 W) lasers. In space, the laser source will not have a means to radiate heat quickly enough to avoid damage to itself.”

The scientists quoted below didn’t mention any cooling problems that would prevent them from operating a large, space-based laser for use in deflecting killer asteriods. Do you know something they don’t?


“Generally speaking, the technology is available today. The main challenge with building a full DE-STAR is the necessary scale to be effective,” Qicheng Zhang of the University of California, Santa Barbara, one of the authors of the project, told Astrowatch.net.

Zhang and his colleagues claim that if DE-STAR had a 330-feet-wide phased laser array, it could divert volatile-laden asteroids 330 feet in diameter by initiating engagement at about two million miles.”

end excerpt

I am interested in your sunlight-powered alternative although I know nothing about it. I assume it has to match orbits with the target asteriod, and you say it has to be *very* large in order to handle large asteriods, so I’m wondering how that’s going to work.

It would seem to be much easier to target the killer asteriod from an orbit in the Earth/Moon system where we can build the power supply as large as is necessary (the Solar Power Satellite) and we don’t have to match orbits with anything. Some of the mirrors you are talking about building are as big as the asteriod they are supposed to move, and all this material has to be put into a matching orbit with the killer asteriod. Or do I have something wrong?

Using a laser in close proximity to the killer asteriod will cause material to ablate from the asteriod and this material could interfere with the laser’s operation, although there are those who claim this can be overcome.

Viktor Vasylyev
Reply to  Tom Abbott
August 2, 2019 7:41 am

Actually, I don’t know why the authors of DE-STAR “forget” to mention that there are no materials in nature whose thermal conductivity is sufficient to remove heat from the core of a quasi-continuous kilowatt-class diode laser. It is possible that this is a consequence of “publication only for publication” … I am a Ph.D. in physics and astronomy and have participated in the use of relatively powerful lasers of this type. Even air convection, which is ten times more efficient than radiant cooling, will not be enough. But convection in open space “is absent”, therefore, such a fundamental limitation exists regardless of the size or type of the passive heat spreader and heat sink for the entirely cooling. The only way to cool of powerful continuously or quasi-continuously operating lasers is to use active fluid systems (“water loops”) with open-type refrigerators, the use of which in open space is impossible.

Regarding the method in which use highly concentrated sunlight for local ablation of an asteroid, which has been used for several decades in huge solar furnaces for the evaporation of solid materials. The details of this approach (dimensions of the collector-concentrator, degree of concentration, exposure time, relative positions, etc.) are described in my publication and partially shown in the video – see my first post. In particular, a concentrator with a diameter of about 200-300 meters is sufficient to deflect a sub-kilometer asteroid within a warning time of less than a year. The location of the concentrator at a great distance from the asteroid will lead to an increase in the size of the focal spot and, consequently, to a dramatic decrease in illumination and heating of the target – this is dictated by insurmountable factors: the laws of optics and the divergence of sunrays. By the way, at “about two million miles” distances, the laser beam will also be significantly expanded, which will lead to its inefficiency.

You are absolutely right that “using a laser in close proximity to the killer asteroid will cause material to ablate from the asteroid and this material could interfere with the laser’s operation.” A similar (technological, but not fundamental!) problem should also be solved for solar concentrators, among which the type I proposed is least affected by the possible polluting effect of the ablated material.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Viktor Vasylyev
August 3, 2019 6:00 am

Thanks for that reply, Viktor. It looks like more study on my part is required.

Well, a 300-meter mirror seems to be very doable. Perhaps some type of inflatable design would be worth exploring. That would reduce the mass. I had trouble viewing your video. I’ll try again later.

I’m also interested in your device as a possible means of illuminating the interior of a large space-based Oneill-type Habitat (Gerard K. O’Neill). Of course, we would want to dial down the intenisty of the sunlight somewhat. 🙂

Julian Flood
August 1, 2019 3:05 am

One of the approaching problems — a real problem, not AGW style — is the huge government debt in a large part of the developed world. I had a very interesting discussion with an economist who pointed out the solution was either massive inflation or war. My solution is for a world programme of space defence as spelled out in a short story, Hittile , in one of my collections on Amazon.

It might even unite humanity…. nah, sorry.


Doug Huffman
August 1, 2019 3:55 am

All of this illustrating Vilfredo Pareto’s Power Rule distribution; of impactors and effects, and of commentators and their affect.

Norman Blanton
August 1, 2019 5:10 am

Space is huge, sure the rocks come flying by, but they miss by huge numbers.

It was within the Moon’s orbit, 200,000 mile radius sphere is huge, the Earth is just a dot.
Inside a geosynchronous orbiting satellite, still a lot of margin. think a marble inside a basketball.
so it hits the planet, its a city killer, the Earth is 70% water, and Urban areas are only 3% of land area.

I like our odds, as long as it isn’t a big one.

August 1, 2019 6:34 am

“… Perhaps it is humanity’s role to defend the planet.”

No. The planet is an inanimate object. It doesn’t give a rat’s u-know-what whether it is completely destroyed or not.

… Perhaps it is humanity’s role to defend themselves…

August 1, 2019 9:13 am

🇺🇸⭐️⭐️🇺🇸 The folks had better start paying attention to the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures.
Revelation 8:8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; KJV
“Elenin, Planet X, Nibiru, is Wormwood: The logic is Undeniable” Prophecy page Video.
Click my name to watch the video.

Robert R.
Reply to  GrayEagle48
August 6, 2019 5:47 pm

Actually that “great mountain burning with fire” seems to be the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Islands. But the next trumpet judgment of “a great star falling from the sky, blazing like a torch” would seem to be the Apophis asteroid, scheduled to hit on Friday the 13th of April, 2029.

August 1, 2019 9:17 am

Notify me of follow-up comments.

Amos E. Stone
August 1, 2019 12:09 pm

Only slightly OT I was wandering around Wikipedia and came across this:

‘On 29 August 2006, a 90% iron meteorite weighing 6.8 kilograms fell in Kanvarpura village, near the power station [Rajasthan Atomic Power Station]. The Deputy Director-General (western region) of the Geological Survey of India, R.S. Goyal, said that devastation on an “unimaginable scale” would have ensued had the object struck the station.’

What does the panel think? Would a piece of stuff I could easily lift with one hand bounce off doing no damage at all? Or would the kinetic energy involved be enough to cause Mr Goyal’s “devastation on an unimaginable scale”?

August 1, 2019 7:23 pm

The probability of a CME is much greater than an asteroid. There has been 2 events(that we know of) in the last 1000 years which would send us back to the stone age. We just missed another major CME by 9 days in 2012. Worrying about asteroids when you are not hardened against a CME or EMP is foolish. You need to prioritize your risk and plan accordingly.

Reply to  TommyT
August 1, 2019 9:58 pm

Tell that to poor lil Greta, and she will have a nervous breakdown thinking everything thing that go wrong, just not the climate! If the asteroid don’t get you, the CME and EMP will. True, but all have fairly long odds and when something does go wrong significantly with one of the above, it will not be a good day. We pays our monies and takes our chances…every day. Odds are higher we will get run over by a bus or die from an infection.

August 2, 2019 3:21 pm

Articles like this are a form of hypochondria accompanied by a fear of the known. The idea that we should spend massive amounts of money and effort on a quixotic quest because of a vague theory, and then to push this with hysteria (with absurd solutions) is scientifically unsound.

The actual science has shown that space is far more dangerous to humans than anything on earth. Further, all the actual scientific evidence right now is that humans aren’t going to be leaving earth any time soon in self-sustaining colonies that would persist. We can’t even maintain McMurdo station without a constant stream of supplies! The arrogance to believe we can successfully colonize other planets is scientifically irresponsible at this point.

This is very similar to the global warming scam; frighten everyone to give an elite power and money.

(One sign of this is quoting Arthur C Clarke, a fantasist, as though he had scientific legitimacy. The truth is, we aren’t sure meteors have caused any mass extinction events. Opposing views are being continually shouted down by the same time of nonsense that has held up science to many times in the past. Frankly, we do have pretty good evidence that super volcanoes, and plate tectonics in general, and the sun itself are far bigger threats to the survival of humanity that errant asteroids.)

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