Considering the flyby of the 150 foot asteroid today and the meteor that exploded over Russia last night, it would seem as though God is trying to kill us all. I hate to be the one to burst the crazy, fundamentalists bubbles, but he’s not. And for the record, neither are the aliens. Sorry History Channel. No, the coincidence that a meteor and an asteroid of that size happened to pass by Earth at those exact times was just that: a coincidence. The universe is an indifferent place. We may seem to be in a privileged position, and right fully so. After all, intelligent life is turning out to be a seemingly rare encounter, but just like the trillions of stars that litter and light up our galaxy, there is an even greater number of asteroids and meteoroids hurtling through space waiting for the opportunity to smash into something. And Earth could very easily be that something.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. How exactly did we find out about this half-of-a-football-field hunk of rock and metal. Well, you can thank NASA for that one. In fact, scientists have been tracking this particular asteroid for almost a year. Think about that for a second. NASA detected an object flying through space traveling almost 5 miles per second from 2.7 million miles away. That’s 7 digits for anyone at home keeping count. What the scientists working at NASA did was an incredible feat of science and math. Not only did they identify the asteroid, but they also calculated the projected path of the object, it’s speed, when it would make it’s closest approach to Earth, and how close it would get. And they were all spot on. If you think NASA needs to continue to prove it’s legitimacy, then you probably don’t even know what the word “legitimacy” means.
Not only has NASA proved to be hyper efficient at solving physics problems, but they’ve also spurred the development of technology that is commonplace in today’s society. Memory foam, LEDs, scratch-resistant lenses, freeze dried food, cordless vacuums, artificial limbs, GPS, and in-ear implants were all a result of NASA research. Unfortunately, tang was not invented by NASA. In spite of the lack of sugary fruit beverages, the money spent on NASA has proved to yield invaluable and incredibly useful technology. Instead of realizing NASA’s full potential, congress has decided that space just really isn’t that cool anymore, cutting their funding to .05% of the national budget. In comparison to the defense budget (24%), this is unbelievable miniscule. This suggests the question, would you rather your tax dollars be spent on ground-breaking research, or missiles that break the ground. While the military is a necessary evil, far too much money is devoted to a system built upon the ideas of death and destruction, which is ironic, considering NASA was created entirely for the development of weapons that could travel long distances and destroy enemies from afar. But I digress.
What I’m trying to get at is that NASA provides more than just technological advances. It’s more than a way to boost our economy and it’s more than a few white men solving math problems. What NASA truly represents is an ideology; a passion for the pursuit of knowledge and the expansion of everything that we know. By exploring the universe, we are expanding our conception of literally everything that has ever or will ever exist. This is not simply U.S. history, or European history or even Earth’s history, it is the history of everything. If we are to remain solely focused on our affairs on Earth, it is nearly certain that the universe will soon forget us. Whether it’s a catastrophic event like a deadly meteorite or a thermonuclear war, humanity will eventually cease to exist. And yet, the galaxy will continue to spin. But what if we decided to fund NASA. What if there was a shift in our we all thought, and we became a bit wiser, and a bit kinder. What if we realized how petty our differences were and that neither race nor religion separated us from each other. What if our nationalities were put aside and we realized it was not our languages and cultures that separated us but the common elements and chemicals that bonded us. What if we became not just a planetary species but a galactic civilization. Perhaps it is a bit exaggerated of a claim to say that funding NASA would achieve all of this, but Rome was not built in a day.
So now think back to that meteorite with the equivalent of 2.5 Megatons of explosive force. About 1000 times more powerful than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it would have certainly wiped out an entire city if it was to make impact with Earth. Luckily, it only passed within 17,000 miles to Earth, which is the same space occupied by several geo-synchronous satellites. There is no doubt that there will be more of these asteroids to come in the future, some even bigger and more destructive than this one. If one does happen to have a collision course with earth, we will have a considerable amount of time to take action, but we should not wait. Most of us should now be aware of the dangers that lurk in the blackness of space, so why delay our preparation. By acting now, we begin to move out of the darkness and into the light. We start to shift our attention and concerns from our personal planet to the stars beyond. If we were to protect our planet by manipulating a incoming asteroid without the help of Bruce Willis, it would certainly signal a new chapter of humanity.
Now, since I’m not nearly qualified nor skilled enough to write adequately about this subject, you should all read Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles, or this short but inspiring video. I guarantee he has a more convincing argument than I do.