Sunday, October 07, 2007

How to Put $225 Million to Good Use

Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious. ~ Obi-Wan Kenobi

Newspapers and news web sites are notorious for misleading headlines, and this one is no exception:

What one learns slogging through the article is that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority unveiled a design for a spaceport that might be ready in 2010 for a presumed flight of Virgin Galactic's high-priced roller coaster. Of that ride, we have only heard of a test firing explosion at a "desert spaceport." That little setback hasn't dampened the hubris at Virgin Galactic, which thinks it can still launch from somewhere by 2009.

Also mentioned in the article is how this spaceport that looks like a Xylon ship from Battlestar Gallactica is going to cost New Mexico taxpayers $225 million dollars. I suppose this could be worse; the taxpayers could be shelling out for some domed stadium for some multi-millionaire baseball team owner. Certainly, it's not unusual for tax dollars to go to pay for airline terminals or other transportation stations, but a spaceport for joyriding wealthy celebrities seems like a dubious way to spend state funds.

As long as we're in the twilight zone, we should take note of the latest scheme to protect us against near-earth-objects that could crash into our planet. This bit of brilliance involves using mirrors to focus sunlight on the asteroid to melt rock and cause the object to change its course. This is reminiscent of a similar idea floated on a science/space program on the Discovery axis of channels some months ago. And it has the same problems.

First of all, trying to keep the mirrors focused on a single spot or spots is going to be difficult beyond words. Second, it would take months of this focusing to deflect the rock sufficiently to miss the Earth. We may not get months of warning. In fact, most likely we won't. New NEO's are found regularly, generally when they're passing very close to us. If they were on a collision course with, say, Detroit, it would be way too late to do anything about it.

The problem is that no one has really come up with a good means for deflecting large rocks with evil intentions from their orbits. We also don't have a way to smash them to smithereens that wouldn't end up with rather large smithereens smashing into various places on the planet.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but I do know that we should get very serious about finding a method of protecting ourselves. Given the history of impacts on Earth, we're way overdue for something to come along and ruin our collective day.

Maybe we should be spending our $225 million dollars on trying to save our necks rather than build spaceports for ships that may never get off the ground.

No comments: