A former NASA astronaut says we need a shield around the earth to protect from the 'existential threat' of asteroids – before it's too late.
With our Solar System full of orbiting objects from tiny rocks to hefty behemoths similar to the one that took the dinosaurs out, Rusty Schweickart is keen Earth gets the jump on any potential repeats.
In a TEDx talk in June 2023, Rusty implored humanity to connect and join him in the monumental endeavour to protect itself from cosmic collisions.
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The former astronaut, who spent 241 hours in space on Apollo 9, said that objects are being drawn into our solar system by Jupiter and are joining an orbit around the sun.
"This is an existential threat, we are finding more and more asteroids," he said.
He added that some of the asteroids entering the Solar System are closer to the sun during parts of their orbit and cross Earth's path.
"Of course, as Earth goes around and goes through the intersection and the asteroid goes through the intersection, if they happen to be there at the same time, bang," he said.
"We have the technology today to eliminate this existential threat by restructuring the solar system to enhance the survival of our life.
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"What we need to do is make sure that if the asteroid is going to be there in that intersection, along with the Earth, that we delay its arrival or we accelerate its arrival to go through the intersection when the Earth is not there."
Rusty said that we have both the technology to predict and do something about any potential collision, but it requires a universal agreement to make a decision.
"If you deflect it ,you will take the natural impact point on the Earth and drag it across the leading edge of the Earth, or conversely you can slow it down and drag it off the back side of the Earth.
"But the people at risk then changes, because that impact point moves across the Earth, so people who were not initially at risk become at risk temporarily until everyone is free of risk.
"So the people who live along that direction say 'oh deflect it that way' and the people who live over here say 'no no deflect it that way'.
Rusty said it is "really really tough" to get political leaders across the world to agree when they're all worried about their own electoral hopes.
Rusty has co-founded the non-profit B612 Foundation, which advocates for building a global asteroid defence shield.
He works alongside fellow astronauts like Dr Edward Lu and astronomers such as Harold Reitsma to motivate the scientific community and national governments to work together on a way of deflecting a doomsday asteroid.
Using the example of starlings who go about individually, he said when there is danger, they flock together in murmurations.
"They recognize that their survival is enhanced by being together as one thing, as one entity," he said.
"We have a hard time recognizing that we are not just individuals, but we are a collective life.
"It's going to take a lot of wisdom and recognition that we have a collective as well as individual responsibility to join that Community out there at some wonderful moment in the future."
To see his full TEDx talk click here.
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