Asteroid Hunting with the Big Guns

I just read an interesting article regarding this year’s Planetary Defense Congress, held in College Park, Maryland. The panel held a “wargame” of sorts over what to do with an incoming asteroid of an average size. Suffice it to say, the game described seemed very thorough, with some surprises thrown in the plan that were unique.

One of the takeaways that I have from the article has serious implications for nuclear power in space, specifically explosive power in this case. A defense mode considered was the use of a nuclear bomb to outright destroy an incoming object. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for mitigating an asteroid threat, obliteration is one really valid method in certain circumstances. What became apparent from the gaming exercise were two things:

  1. Non-nuclear-explosive techniques will not always do a proper job of protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts.
  2. Where a nuclear defense might work, we don’t have one to offer.

There has been an extreme case made to deny nuclear technologies in space in general, and especially in regards to nuclear explosive devices. The impulse to keep space nuclear-free seems a natural one, given the military possibilities, but we’re going to face an impact event someday. It’s becoming time for us to develop the proper systems to avoid calamity, even if there is a perceived human-generated risk from those same systems. It’s a certainty that we will be hit by something that is an Extinction Level Event, and we’ll be kicking ourselves six ways from Sunday if we are caught flatfooted.

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