If I didn’t know better, I’d say this story had to originate with The Onion. Russia, which still hasn’t figured out how to get its citizens to stay sober for longer than 24 hours at a stretch; which thinks nothing of wiping out both terrorists and innocent civilians indiscriminately during hostage sieges; and which thinks nothing of poisoning its enemies to death on foreign shores–is preparing to deflect an asteroid which may or may not come close to striking earth in the coming decades:
Russia’s top space researchers will hold a closed-door meeting to plan a mission to deflect 99942 Apophis, an asteroid that will fly close to Earth two decades from now, said Anatoly N. Perminov, the head of Russia’s space agency, during an interview on Russian radio on Wednesday.Mr. Perminov said Apophis, named for the Egyptian god of destruction, is about three times the size of the Tunguska meteorite, apparently the cause of a 1908 explosion in Siberia that knocked over an estimated 80 million trees. He said that according to his experts’ calculation, there was still time to design a spacecraft that could alter Apophis’s path before it made a dangerous swing toward Earth.
“I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,” he said, adding, “We’re talking about people’s lives here. It’s better to spend several million dollars and create this system, which would not allow a collision to happen, than wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”
I agree with Rusty Schweickart who said much more politely than I–if this asteroid were clear across the galaxy and hadn’t a hope in hell of ever hitting earth I’d say gesund aheit/go to it to Ruskies. But there’s still a 1 in 50,000 chance this thing could strike earth without intervention. That means that the least tinkering could send it right down our windpipes. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to experiment on a heavenly body far outside our orbit? Especially considering that Russia’s technical abilities are generally not of the highest?
“It takes a very small change in the Apophis orbit to cause it to impact the Earth instead of missing it,” Mr. Schweickart said. “There are a million asteroids out there. Find another one.”
Right now, with what I know about this proposal I’d say: thank you very much for your concern about earth’s safety, but uh no thanks. Given your success rate, you’ll likely mess this up as badly as you’ve messed up your own country. You remember that all of Oedipus’ machinations to avoid the curse Tiresias had prophesied for him only made the curse happen. If he had done nothing, the curse might have avoided him.