The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Meteor shows NASA’s importance in humanity’s survival

No one ever wants to be Chicken Little.

For decades, scientists have been screening the void on the lookout for innocent foreign objects from far away lands, able to maintain constant speed in a realm with no friction. People laugh at the idea of taking such a precaution.

These peculiar masses are called asteroid, meteors when they enter Earth’s atmosphere and meteorites when we’re unlucky enough for them to make impact on Earth’s surface.

NASA estimates that less than 10 percent of our biggest dangers in asteroids have been discovered, mainly because the U.S. agency lacks the tools to accurately and appropriately detect these serious threats.

This argument was fortified last week, as we saw cosmic realities strike home for those living in San Francisco and Siberia. The big one — a suspected asteroid the size of a football field called Asteroid 2012 DA14 — missed Earth by an incredible 17,150 miles on Friday, but NASA had been monitoring the rock for quite some time.

Ironically, around the same time, an unexpected meteor, one-quarter the size of DA14, exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in Siberia, after entering Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 miles per hour. Its nuclear characteristics momentarily shined brighter than the sun, injuring thousands and causing millions of dollars in damage.

Should countries fund their space programs more in order to prepare for, predict and prevent these potentially catastrophic events from occurring? The simple answer is no.

There are plenty of other imperative, desperate issues that need our focus, instead. For some on the left, it may be cherishing our beautiful wilderness — the same wilderness that could be gone in the blink of an eye from a mile-wide radius piece of space rock. On the right, balancing a budget and reclaiming a sense of work ethic means absolutely nothing to a space rock.

Then again, the current U.S. Air Force doesn’t stand a likely chance against a 143,000-ton asteroid, hurtling towards Earth’s surface. There will be two options when this event occurs in the future, because we all have an inclination there’s a good chance it eventually will.

Option 1: “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (2012) ending. The mere idea of attempting to save humanity is virtually thrown out the door, replaced with helpless comforting and reflection.

Option 2: “The Armageddon” (1998) ending. In a time when America holds a robust, astronomical regiment in NASA, humanity is not relinquished but salvaged heroically by astronauts who are sent to destroy an apocalyptic asteroid before it makes its way to Earth.

Just like our nation’s debt, it’s hard to get behind something that’s numbingly difficult to tackle. Also, similar to the tragedy of the commons, no government wants to sacrifice its indispensable resources for the benefit of the entire planet. This issue, however, makes all debt and environmental issues superficial. It’s highly unpredictable, awfully unwarranted and nothing anyone ever wants to talk about — but it’s real.

As technology continues to advance exponentially faster, we must consider ways we can protect ourselves from the final frontier. Most of the time we’re oblivious to what’s going on outside our atmosphere. Unfortunately, space doesn’t forget how menial we are on the whole spectrum of things.

“Civil” war among the nations of the Earth may eventually be our demise, but wouldn’t it be upsetting to be wiped out because we weren’t paying enough attention to our globally common enemy?

That’s why I hope we pick Option 2.

Logan Nee is a third-year economics and political science student.