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Post Column: Meteorite safety ignored by the feds

We should all deliver our thanks to the Great Deity of Powerful Air Resistance. Thanks to him, we were able to save a precious piece of beautiful Mother Russia wilderness from a 10,000-ton meteorite. We’re short on tundra space already, and we can’t afford to lose any more to those dastardly space rocks.

We got lucky this time, but of course, as everybody says, we should kinda sorta prepare for the times we might get unlucky. A meteorite just a few kilometers wide could produce an impact with the force of several million nuclear bombs.

That would leave our poor planet Earth with a large and unsightly acne mark of a crater

.

And we would also all be dead. Just ask all the dinosaurs we keep digging up. Their sad expressions tell it all: “We should have listened to Rexy when he asked if the shooting stars could come to Earth.”

I don’t want to end up like a dinosaur fossil, so I Googled what the omnipotent U.S. government is doing to protect me against alien space rocks. If the government can protect me from the North Koreans, then surely they can blast some asteroids away from my home, right?

But my search was met with great disappointment. Since I have been researching, my expectation of becoming a dinosaur fossil has only increased.

The most successful meteor impact prevention program thus far was initiated in 1998 by NASA. Called the NEO Project (sadly not a reference to The Matrix, but rather just short for “Near-Earth Objects”), the program has identified 90 percent of meteors larger than 1 kilometer that could cause significant damage to Earth.

However, the program admitted that 10 percent of 1 kilometer-plus meteors are still floating around out there ... somewhere. And NASA also predicted that several of these unidentified meteors could be 2 to 3 km in length. This 10 percent of large meteors could pop out of nowhere in the near future, like a really bad birthday present.

Furthermore, there have been no definite, organized, large-scale programs initiated by the U.S. government to defend against meteors. Instead, there has just been a lot of scholarly talk about various possibilities of defending against such meteors.

One of the most thorough, detailed plans submitted dates all the way back to 1967. Called the Icarus Project, it was created by a group of graduate students from MIT, who calculated proposed trajectories and detonation tracks of nuclear missiles to blow large asteroids off course, Bruce Willis style.

However, the Icarus Project ran into a significant problem. The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty technically outlawed the detonation of nuclear bombs in space as well. So if the Icarus Project were to use nuclear bombs to save the Earth, it would incur the wrath of the rest of the world.

The bigger point, though, is that cited feasible plans for planetary defense extend all the way back to 1967 — a pretty sure indicator that the U.S. government should pay a little more attention to the rather big problem of collision meteors.

Currently, NASA’s annual budget is only $18.1 billion, 0.5 percent of the total U.S. budget. To put $18.1 billion in perspective, the Department of Defense has a budget of $515.4 billion, or 29.3 times that of NASA’s. That means we can definitely fend off the North Koreans, but if just one rogue space rock comes for us, we’re finished.

The U.S. government should take the Russian meteorite as a wake-up call, before we find it much too late to cry over spilled milk.

Or, to be more exact, meteorite-pulverized and vaporized milk.

Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Should the U.S. pay more attention to meteorite prevention? Email Kevin at kh319910@ohiou.edu.

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