I’ve always been a fan of disaster movies. I still remember what I call the golden age of disaster movies in the 1970s, the first that comes to mind being “Airport” from 1970. The soundtrack to that movie gives me shivers again today. In this film, a suicidal man boards an airliner bound for Rome with a pipe bomb in a briefcase, which would be virtually impossible today.
Then there was 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure,” and in 1974 Hollywood treated disaster-hungry moviegoers to “The Towering Inferno” and “Earthquake.”
Naturally, Hollywood was looking for more disasters for the silver screen.
Tidal Waves, Killer Bees, Tornadoes and Hurricanes all got their own movies. Oh, and then there were the asteroid and comet movies like “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon.”
These movies are just as realistic – or at least somewhat reality-based – as other natural disaster movies.
Earth is really in what amounts to a cosmic shooting range. We move among huge asteroids, and there’s always a chance that one of them will score a hit.
Now this possibility of being hit by an asteroid is taken as seriously as hurricanes and tornadoes.
Last Monday, a NASA spacecraft actually crashed into an asteroid to see if it could be pushed into a new orbit.
This spacecraft, nicknamed Dart, was traveling at around 14,000 miles per hour when it hit a small asteroid named Dimorphos.
Now scientists are waiting to see if that hit actually changed the asteroid’s orbit in any way.
It is amazing that NASA scientists were able to mark a target on a target about 525 feet wide and 7 million miles away.
The feat isn’t as dramatic as watching two super space shuttles take off in “Armageddon” or nuclear bombs being fired, but it should be more effective.
From everything I’ve read, blowing up an asteroid would turn one big asteroid into lots of smaller asteroids that would fall on our collective heads. Yes, these movies are dramatic, but never trust Hollywood to understand history or science. The screenwriters will always choose the dramatic rather than the factual.
A refrigerator-sized spacecraft saving Earth by plunging into an asteroid just doesn’t offer the excitement of astronauts bravely landing on one, drilling into it, planting a nuclear warhead, and saving the world just in time.
Ideally, Dart’s successors will be able to reach a menacing asteroid months or even years before it reaches Earth, then hit it just enough to miss us.
I’m sure there will be plenty of drama in NASA’s control room and the White House as the spacecraft(s) approach the cosmic threat and score a hit or hits.
More drama could follow as scientists determine whether Doomsday or Grim Reaper – they’ll surely give the asteroid an ominous name – have been diverted from their deadly course.
Last Monday’s test cost about $325 million.
That’s a lot of money, but it’s far from what the country and the world as a whole could lose if a large space rock fell from the sky.
Space exploration may seem like a waste of money in an age of inflation and national tensions, but we have gained a lot.
Much of the technology that we benefit from today was launched thanks to the Space Race.
For example, today’s cell phones have more computing power than the computers that astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins used when they went to the moon. and those cell phones and our precious internet use satellites hoisted into orbit by rockets launched by NASA.
And I’m sure the precision NASA showed when Dart hit that asteroid will have uses here on Earth.
I wonder what cool new products we’ll get from a space fridge hitting a big rock.
Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]