Look up, waaaaay up. See anything suspicious? Canadian and American astronauts have warned that our planet is a sitting duck for massive asteroids—one of which may ultimately smash into Earth, dooming billions to death and prompting thousands to turn to their god and plaintively inquire: “Why? Why couldn’t this have happened in 1983 when I still had six LPs left on my Columbia House obligation?”
The warning comes from an organization headed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. It’s called the Association of Space Explorers, which surely ranks among the most badass and awesome-sounding of private clubs out there—although members do have to put up with Buzz Aldrin ending every argument with younger astronauts by hollering: “How did your moon walk go? Oh, right, you never walked on the moon like I walked on the moon! [pause] Moon!”
The association’s report about the asteroid menace got some coverage in the media. Permit me to direct you to a critical sentence from one of the news articles: “The United Nations is currently studying the report, which outlines plans to detect and deflect any objects that might threaten the planet.”
Did you catch that? The UN’s got our backs. They’re totally on top of this. Even as you read these words, the Executive Secretary to the Director-General of the Under-Under-Secretariat is totally think-tanking the Proposed Action Item of facilitating the appointment of a Special Envoy for The Asteroid That Will Kill Us All. This will be followed by a decade of fruitless negotiations with the hurtling death rock.
Special envoy: If you turn your agenda to page four, you’ll see it’s time to discuss the heritage of your basaltic crust, after which I will talk reason with your nickel-iron core.
Asteroid: [methodically maintains speed and course to apocalyptic impact]
Special envoy: Good idea. Muffin break.
I’m telling you: one toothless embargo and a series of empty, sternly worded resolutions later, the General Assembly will finally be ready to take decisive action against the imminent asteroid threat by passing a resolution condemning Israel for something.
(Not that the wholesale annihilation of our species would be all bad. For one thing, it would save me from confronting the backyard. We had a bunch of people over and my “landscaping” consisted of taking a large flower pot and placing it strategically over the gaping hole in our rotting deck. Sure, the lawn was still patchy and brown, part of the fence was falling down and there was a tire fire burning over in one corner—but that splintery limb trap was now somewhat less likely to claim a child’s life. Look for me on the cover of next month’s Lawsuit-Avoidance Gardening.)
Hadfield and colleagues say we urgently need to build on the efforts of Spaceguard, which sounds like an astronaut’s deodorant but is actually an ongoing survey of the skies that scans for potential threats.
But why bother? If a big-time asteroid is coming our way, we’re done for. In the movies, it’s Bruce Willis and his gang of character actors to the rescue, saving humanity with the power of macho posturing and Aerosmith power ballads. But real life brings with it the grim fact of real governments. And how would they respond?
I think it’s safe to say that Russia would fire off several nuclear warheads at the asteroid. These missiles would destroy the moon. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck would encourage Americans to run simultaneously in the same direction, thinking perhaps that this will speed up the Earth’s rotation and let China take the worst of the impact. In Canada, Stephen Harper would dispatch an emergency mission to the asteroid, but only to spruce it up a bit and put a government stimulus sign on it.
The New York Times recently reported that nine years after the 9/11 attacks, and after billions of dollars spent, U.S. officials still haven’t figured out how to allow firefighters and police officers from different jurisdictions to talk to each other over their radios at emergency sites. Nine years! And these guys are going to successfully deflect a 200-million-ton planetoid travelling at 30 km per second? Riiiight.
I don’t care how much Spaceguard you apply—we’d might as well move straight to the widespread looting.