Stephen D Covey

Science Fiction & Thriller Writer

 

Our nation faces a grand opportunity.
Humanity
faces a grand opportunity.

In 2004, scientists feared the asteroid Apophis 99942 was on an April 13, 2029 collision course with the Earth. Later observations predict a 2029 near miss but a possible Earth impact in 2036. Even if it misses us again it will return every seven years, until some day our luck will run out. Small as asteroids go (only 1000 feet wide), a land strike would still devastate an area the size of Connecticut. But an ocean strike is much more likely. The resulting tsunami will destroy coastal communities around the globe a hundred million lives lost, a trillion dollars damage.

 

But we don't have to leave our fate to chance.

By acting years in advance, several technologies are available that will allow us to deflect an incoming asteroid. But a simple deflection merely postpones the problem, giving it to our children to solve.

There is a smarter choice.

We have the technology to capture into Earth orbit any medium to small asteroid that passes sufficiently close to the Earth at a relatively low velocity, as Apophis will do on Friday, April 13th, 2029. During such a close approach, tiny orbital changes are greatly amplified by the slingshot effect of the Earth's gravity. This enables us to effect orbital changes far beyond our direct capabilities using today's rocket technologies. I describe the concept in my blog post, Capturing Apophis.

Capturing Apophis into a stable Earth orbit removes it from being a threat and turns it into a resource. This opportunity to capture an asteroid into Earth orbit is something humanity should not miss. Capturing Apophis would not be easy, and could not be accomplished in a single step. But it is possible using existing technologies, and with sufficient care, it could be accomplished safely (at least more safely than leaving our fate to chance).

We can spend a few billion, and yield a resource worth perhaps a trillion dollars: 46 million TONS of oxygen, iron, silicon, aluminum, water, carbon, and other ores, conveniently located in Earth orbit. Resources which can be used to create solar power satellites without having to boost all that mass from the surface of the Earth. Resources that can be used to lower the cost of space exploration ten-fold. Resources that can be used to build permanent self-sustaining habitats in space, large enough to house tens of thousands of colonists in habitats spinning for gravity and with outer walls thick enough to protect the occupants from radiation and meteor impacts equally as well as Earth's atmosphere protects us down here.

President Obama needs a grand goal for NASA and the nation in the next decades, one comparable to Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon in this decade."

I believe that capturing Apophis is such a grand goal, with benefits to global energy and warming (via those solar power satellites), and to space exploration, and to permanent, self-sustaining habitats in space. I have written the committee responsible for gathering ideas, but I fear my small voice is lost among the millions of suggestions they've received.

If our government (and/or NASA) fails to act, perhaps another nation (such as China) will take the reigns. After all, capturing Apophis would be a huge triumph for any space faring nation.  Or perhaps a nation such as Kuwait will take on this initiative: the nation that captures Apophis and uses it to build a constellation of solar power satellites will own the energy future of the world - and what better use of the oil dollars they've pocketed. Or perhaps a large corporation will take the challenge, or a coalition of billionaires! Global Power & Light. Disneymoon. The Apophis Hyatt.

If you like the idea of advancing human space flight, of sending cheap solar energy to Earth, of helping global warming, please share the word. Tell President Obama that he holds the key to the future of humanity in space, that capturing Apophis is feasible and solves many problems in one step. And it is a lot simpler and less expensive than sending astronauts to Mars, or landing them on the Moon.

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