Saturday, May 16, 2009

Preparing for an Asteroid Strike

There's was an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor a couple days ago called, "Who is responsible for averting an asteroid strike?" The answer of course is: no one.  The main thrust of the article is that even if a large, dangerous asteroid is detected with plenty of warning time, there is no international team or organization responsible for taking action to prevent it from reaching earth.
Scientists and engineers who have studied the problem of deflecting a dangerous asteroid believe the technical issues are difficult but solvable. The challenge now is figuring out the legal issues of who takes action on behalf of humankind and of what their responsibilities and liabilities will be.
Is there any better example of the sheer idiocy of legalism? It's tempting to dismiss the author's concerns. You might think that if a killer asteroid were bearing down on earth, the main focus would be on destroying or diverting it, not on "legal issues." But you might also think that if piracy threatened commerce in a particular region, the primary emphasis would be on eliminating the pirates, rather than legal concerns. But of course you'd be wrong. In today's political climate it is quite possible that we could see extended squabbling over international law, arguments over putting weapons into space, and all sorts of other legal nonsense. People would feel the need to consult lawyers and get legal rulings on exactly what we could and could not do to stop the oncoming asteroid. There might even be lunatics arguing that an asteroid has "rights," and we couldn't just destroy it. After all, who would have thought that people would have been crazy enough to argue that terrorists should be given rights? 

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