By Irene Klotz Sun Feb 18, 12:44 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An asteroid may come uncomfortably close to Earth in 2036 and the United Nations should assume responsibility for a space mission to deflect it, a group of astronauts, engineers and scientists said on Saturday.
Astronomers are monitoring an asteroid named Apophis, which has a 1 in 45,000 chance of striking Earth on April 13, 2036.
Although the odds of an impact by this particular asteroid are low, a recent congressional mandate for NASA to upgrade its tracking of near-Earth asteroids is expected to uncover hundreds, if not thousands of threatening space rocks in the near future, former astronaut Rusty Schweickart said.
"It's not just Apophis we're looking at. Every country is at risk. We need a set of general principles to deal with this issue," Schweickart, a member of the Apollo 9 crew that orbited the earth in March 1969, told an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Francisco.
Schweickart plans to present an update next week to the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on plans to develop a blueprint for a global response to an asteroid threat.
The Association of Space Explorers, a group of former astronauts and cosmonauts, intends to host a series of high-level workshops this year to flesh out the plan and will make a formal proposal to the U.N. in 2009, he said.
Schweickart wants to see the United Nations adopt procedures for assessing asteroid threats and deciding if and when to take action.
The favored approach to dealing with a potentially deadly space rock is to dispatch a spacecraft that would use gravity to alter the asteroid's course so it no longer threatens Earth, said astronaut Ed Lu, a veteran of the International Space Station.
The so-called Gravity Tractor could maintain a position near the threatening asteroid, exerting a gentle tug that, over time, would deflect the asteroid.
An asteroid the size of Apophis, which is about 460 feet
long, would take about 12 days of gravity-tugging, Lu added.
Mission costs are estimated at $300 million.
Launching an asteroid deflection mission early would reduce the amount of energy needed to alter its course and increase the chances of a successful outcome, Schweickart said.
NASA says the precise effect of a 460-foot (140-meter) object hitting the Earth would depend on what the asteroid was made of and the angle of impact.
Paul Slovic, president of Oregon-based Decision Research, which studies judgment, decision-making and risk analysis, said the asteroid could take out an entire city or region.
So tell me this, do we REALLY want to entrust the UN for 'protecting' us? Kinda the way we 'depend' on them to stop genocide? To watch over the money from 'oil for food' programs? LOL, heck, I don't even trust the UN to give an UN-biased opinion on anything!!!! By the time the asteroid is getting close, the UN will STILL be arguing about who is in charge of destroying/moving it and the countries NOT getting that 'right' will complain that they weren't represented, then China will block any vote if the US gets the contract. By this time, Russia and N. Korea will both complain that they are being ignored and should be allowed to be the lead on getting the rock.
One group will complain that we need to study this asteroid to make sure there are no sentient beings aboard, another group will say that if we had controlled the greenhouse emissions better, the asteroid would not be a problem. Still another group would push for legalized marijuana, claiming that since the world is going to perish, at least we should all be allowed to get high one last time!
Of course; all the major media will cover this whole thing, but tell completely different stories, stories that would change hour by hour as they look at what the others were saying and try to stay ahead.
Of course, by this time, the world will have been destroyed, and there would be nobody around to blame, or to help, or to save!