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Space Science

Defending Earth From Asteroids With MADMEN 499

jolomo writes "A partner of Atlanta-based NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts is working on a concept they call MADMEN (Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Nodes), which would launch a distributed attack against large Earth-bound objects. Thousands of MADMEN could be built by many nations and when launched, each would land on the object, drill into its surface and remove enough material to change its course."
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Defending Earth From Asteroids With MADMEN

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  • Experiment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zeux ( 129034 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:01PM (#8366051)
    If you want to see this effect try this (a teacher told me about that 10 years ago):
    on a day without wind go in a light boat with something like 300 pounds of rocks. Go in the middle of a lake and launch all the rocks in the same direction as far as possible. After a while you'll notice that the boat is moving slowly in the opposite direction (depending on the weight and speed of the launches).

    Nice trick that makes lot of sense in vaccum, with hundreds of 'rock launchers' and continous launches over a very long time.

    As we say in French, "toute action entraine une reaction".
    • by hikerhat ( 678157 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:40PM (#8366551)
      Dude, when someone tells you to load 300 pounds of rocks into a boat and take it out on the lake he isn't trying to teach you something. He's trying trick you into spending a day moving 300 pounds of rocks and sinking your boat.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:02PM (#8366053)
    Obviously a project named after the inventors.
  • by st0rmshad0w ( 412661 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:02PM (#8366062)
    Who read that as Defending the Earth From MADMEN with Asteroids?
  • by pixel_bc ( 265009 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:03PM (#8366064)
    So... like... a DDOS against a chunk of rock? ... heh. Imagine a Beo... nevermind.
  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:03PM (#8366075) Homepage Journal
    We cannot let there be a astronautical mineshaft gap!
  • Please... (Score:3, Funny)

    by evilmuffins ( 631482 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:03PM (#8366076)
    Will someone please tell these companies to stop turning to local schools for names for their projects.
  • credit ? (Score:2, Funny)

    by vluther ( 5638 )
    ya but who would take credit for saving the planet ?
    remember we're petty..

    look at all the news channels... "when such and such broke, channel 5 was there first.. we rock".

    Believe in Jesus our saviour.. the MADMAN from Saudi was the one that caused the asteroid to alter course.. Allah saved us.. so confusing.. might lead to WW III :)..

    Sorry bored.. and having a bad humor day.. please don't take this post seriously.
    • "ya but who would take credit for saving the planet ?"

      You know its going to be Bush... He'll claim to have saved the planet from rogue asteroids...
  • MADMEN? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bobdoer ( 727516 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:04PM (#8366090) Homepage Journal
    NASA really has beaten Congress in the stupid name department.
    • Re:MADMEN? (Score:3, Interesting)

      I've noticed from my University experience that astronomers are quite mad. Other acronyms they've come up with:

      WIMP = Weakly Interacting Massive Particles
      MACHO = MAssive Compact Halo Object
  • Side effect (Score:2, Funny)

    by Unnngh! ( 731758 )
    On the off chance that aliens drop by for a visit, could we use the drones to try breaking their ships into little pieces too? After reading Mission Earth years ago I always thought we needed some sort of space-pointing defence system, just in case;)
    • Re:Side effect (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bendebecker ( 633126 )
      No, it will probably be liek "This island Earth" where the aliens use asteroids to attack other planets. Go to asteroid belt, get big rock, throw at planet, return to belt to get more. We are defending oursleves from alien invaders when we prevent asteroid strikes. Of course, any alien race that can get here will probably just kick our asses the odl fashioned way when asteroids fail anyway. DOn't believe me? Think Gort x 1,000,000...
  • Why, oh why, do they keep coming up with these silly "destory or deflect the asteroid" schemes? Such "inside the box" thinking.

    When is someone going to focus on the important alternative: how about moving Earth out of the way instead?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:07PM (#8366119)
    I can see it now
    Russia: We pushed left, why didn't it change course?
    USA: Why didn't you check first? we pushed right!
    • The "all nations" approach seems like it would be vulnerable to the tragedy of the commons. But think about it for a moment... The USA doesn't want the earth to get hit, but it really doesn't want the USA to get hit. Changing the course enough to make sure the rock hits the other side of the world is probably a lot easier. Now if we just mention this to other countries it might motivate them to participate in such a program in numbers sufficient to ensure that by working together we could push any rock
      • China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA

        USA: Ok, Ok, stop it! This is stupid! We're both pushing and it's not changing direction! I saw we both push AWAY, ok?
        China: Ok.
        USA: You first.
        China: You first.

        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
        USA: towards China
        China: towards USA
      • Re:All nations, huh? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Gaijin42 ( 317411 )
        um. Which side of the earth an asteroid hits is pretty much a function of when it gets here, since the earth spins. So unless you have a way to delay it getting to earth (and delaying it would allow earth to just move out of the way)

        So really the only way you could get it to hit the "other" side of the earth, would be to delay it AND deflect it to be into the new spot in earth's orbit. If you can deflect it, just deflect it the OTHER WAY.

        In addition, an asteroid of any significance hitting the earth (sin
  • Only in Atlanta would an idea like, "Shoot it a bunch of times and see if it goes away" would such a solution be born.
  • by jstave ( 734089 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:08PM (#8366140)
    I can see it now: "Yes, we're about to launch a large number of missiles armed with powerful explosives. All nuclear powers please remain calm. This is only a test. No, really, none of these will malfunction and visit death and destruction on somebody we're having a disagreement with. Honest."
  • by millahtime ( 710421 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:10PM (#8366161) Homepage Journal
    Will the MADMEN be good enough to stop say.... The moon gets hit by an asteroid knocking it off course and towards the earth.

    So, maybe I played too much pool as a kid.
    • by sketerpot ( 454020 ) <sketerpotNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:56PM (#8366758)
      Playing pool would be a good aid to getting a handle on asteroids bumping into each other, except for two things. First, collisions in pool are mostly elastic, so there isn't that much loss of momentum. You can't expect that from asteroids or the moon. Second, pool balls are, in an honest game, all roughly the same mass. The moon is much bigger than an asteroid, and the forces keeping in in balance with the earth are probably enough to absorb a little asteroid collision easily.
  • How would you get thousands of units all fire chunks of asteroids in the same direction if the asteroid is rotating? If you fire in all direction the net effect would be pretty much nil.

  • Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:11PM (#8366183) Homepage
    I fully support using world leaders as ammunition to deflect asteroids.

    I, for one, welcome our new Madmen-flinging overlords.
  • Alternative methods (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doesn't_Comment_Code ( 692510 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:11PM (#8366189)
    My favorite approach that I've heard so far is to paint the asteroid while its still a long way out. You paint one half to absorb radiation and leave the other side alone. The idea is that after long enough the sun will push the asteroid off course.

    What kind of goofy people come up with this stuff?

    My second favorite is to put rocket engines on lots of little asteroids and crash them into the big asteroid coming for earth. Some lucky bastard would get paid to sit in his chair at NASA with a joystick and play asteroids.

    Imagine the pressure!
    • Painting half the rock black will not do: a) asteroids rotate, b) they already have a pretty low albedo and c) the irradiated area is likely too small to cause trajectory changes outside the margin of error. Large solar sails might work better.

      Even so, the considerable problem of detecting a small, dark object at a very great distance with enough time left to be able to deploy countermeasures is not solved. This might require deploying a network of passive sensors across the solar system...
      • by lommer ( 566164 )
        Wrong, Wrong and, Wrong. Please Play again.

        The trick is you paint the rock white, not black (i.e. you increase its albedo). The act of reflecting light imparts double the momentum of the act of absorbing it, thereby changing its orbit. Further, it doesn't matter that the asteroid rotates as you paint the whole asteroid. And actually, surprisingly, some of the guys at JPL have calculated that the area is actually enough - provided that the paint is applied early enough (several years prior to the predicted
    • by PassiveLurker ( 205754 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @06:18PM (#8366991) Homepage
      Actually, painting the entire rock a brighter or darker color significantly different from it's current color would work - if you have enough time, it's the best possible solution, as it's a passive one.

      I'm not sure why people seem to think that you only need to paint half. I'm also not sure why other people think that because asteroids rotate this doesn't work - it is actually *because* the rock rotates that it does work.

      This relies on a phenomenon called the Yarkovsky effect. It can be thought of this way: Imagine you're standing on the asteroid where it's "asteroid high noon". Light is being absorbed throughout the "asteroid day" and heats the surface, particularly if the asteroid is darkly colored (e.g. a carbonaceous asteroid). After a while, the asteroid rotates and the sun sets. The asteroid then reradiates this heat in the direction of "asteroid evening". As it rotates more, by the time "asteroid morning" rolls around, the area your standing on has cooled down enough to radiate much less. Ergo, there is a differential radiation pressure on either side of the asteroid, which results in a net force over time. If it rotates with the same spin orientation as its orbit, its orbit will get wider. If it rotates with the opposite spin as its orbit, its orbit will get smaller.

      By painting the rock, you change this force - the brighter the paint, the more light is reflected, the less thrust, thereby changing the path.

      One last comment - the effect is subtle, so it would need to be applied early. It also preferentially favors diversion for small asteroids, since the Yarkovsky effect is a surface phenomena. The larger the asteroid, the smaller the surface-area-to-volume ratio, and the less deflection this thrust will do.
  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <teamhasnoiNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:11PM (#8366190) Journal
    I was just discussing with a coworker about using asteriods to defend ourselves from madmen.

    In fact, a good sized asteriod could clear up a lot of this country's problems in a snap!

    Look out congresswhores! Mama needs a new box a' cooties, and she is mad!

  • by StringBlade ( 557322 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:12PM (#8366195) Journal
    Thousands of MADMEN could be built by many nations and when launched, each would land on the object...

    How many nations have put rockets (with significant payloads) successfully into orbit? Right, I can count them on one hand too. So where do the other 995+ nations come in and what makes us think that any rouge nation that can lauch a rocket into space has the ability to aim it, much less land it on the surface of the asteriod?

    And finally, are we suggesting that we want thousands of nations to have the ability to launch rockets with payloads into outer space (or at least orbit)? I'm not being elitist here, but I think most of use agree that nuclear proliferation wasn't quite the boon we all thought it was going to be.

    • by geoswan ( 316494 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @06:46PM (#8367274) Journal
      The non-proliferation treaty defined two kinds of proliferation. "Horizontal proliferation" was the spread of nuclear weapons to nations that hadn't had them before the treaty. This was considered a bad thing. "Vertical proliferation" was an increase in the number of nuclear weapons by nations that had already had nuclear weapons before the treaty. This was also considered a bad thing .

      All the members of the nuclear club increased the size of their nuclear arsenals without regard to their treaty obligations. And the USA won. The USA is the pre-eminent super-power now because it won the Arms Race. It wouldn't be the pre-eminent super-power if the smart bombs were not backed up by a nuclear arsenal. It wouldn't be the pre-eminent super-power if the B2 wasn't backed up by a nuclear arsenal.

      Oh yeah, there was another clause in the non-proliferation treaty. Part of the Quid Pro Quo was that the nations with Nuclear power were supposed to make sure the nations without Nuclear power shared in the benefits of Nuclear Power. We haven't see much of that happening, have we?

    • One question:

      Where did you get "thousands of nations" from "thousands of MADMEN could be built by many nations"?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:13PM (#8366213)
    Food for thought:

    1) With such a system in place, would the United States be morally or legally bound to intervene if an asteroid was destined (for example) Cuba, or North Korea?

    2) Can such as system also be used to DIVERT or even AIM such a projectile as a weapon?*

    *(If it helps you sleep, you can answer this to yourself as "it saved millions of lives and cut short the war by several years". You know what I am talking about)

    Posted AC, because I work for The Man sometimes.

  • by UncleBiggims ( 526644 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:14PM (#8366225)
    Why not use an Illudium Q36 Explosive Space Modulator?

    Are you Corn Fed? [ebay.com]
  • Swarm good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:14PM (#8366228) Homepage Journal
    I think it's crucial to have redundancy in such an oviously critical mission such as saving humanity. It also offers mission flexibilty, allowing the allocation of resources in response to the threat vectors presented.


  • Sagan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leehwtsohg ( 618675 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:14PM (#8366234)
    I think that Carl Sagan made a very good point, saying that the chance of an astroid hitting earth is increased when one develops a technology to deflect astroids from their path, not decreased.
  • by CoolVibe ( 11466 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:15PM (#8366246) Journal
    Does NASA (or any other US gov thing) have a special department that think up cool acronyms?
  • Movie? (Score:3, Funny)

    by kcornia ( 152859 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:17PM (#8366275) Journal
    I haven't seen the movie on this yet, so I'm unable to comment one way or another.

  • No-one is going to spend billions of dollars up front on a device that would protect us in the unlikely event of an impending asteroid collision. I'd recommend anyone wanting to do conceptual design to solve this problem assume that *no* precautions have been taken in advance, the asteroid has been discovered by an amateur astronomer about as late as you might expect... but that, in the remaining few weeks, the budget with which to build and launch their rescue plan is a few trillion dollars.
  • Better idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by ENOENT ( 25325 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:18PM (#8366287) Homepage Journal
    Just post a link to the asteroid on /.

  • by millahtime ( 710421 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:24PM (#8366355) Homepage Journal
    when a country song is written about not only loosing the girl, house, truck and dog but the whole damn planet.
  • by The Angry Mick ( 632931 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:30PM (#8366429) Homepage

    Thousands of MADMEN could be built by many nations

    Aren't a LOT of nations already producing thousands of mad men already? Do we really need any more?

    Still though, this would make a great plot device for a James Bond movie.

  • by demo9orgon ( 156675 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:30PM (#8366431) Homepage
    Hey, goddist filth!

    The only thing you're supposed to do when a heavenly object is about to obliterate you is to pray. PRAY!
    Don't you believe in the tennets of your fairy tales? You're supposed to welcome the end of all the unbelievers with the faith and understanding that only the devout will make it to paradise. You're devout and you will be saved.
    That asteroid is nothing short of the HAND OF THE ALMIGHTY/STARK FIST OF REMOVAL.
    You should accept it willingly, lovingingly. Even before it becomes a visible-eye object there should be enough songs and stories about it that the armies of the anointed will leave no dry-earth unshadowed as the seas surge and the sky darkens with its approach.

    This whole "playing god" thing will just interfere with the destiny issue.
    What happens when humanity does avert a disaster which is supposed to render all human life null-o-void-o?!
    Why, would anyone want to interfere with that!?
    Virgins for everyone?
    Constant bliss that makes orgasm seem like a hangnail?
    If anything you'd think humanity would just use a laser to sky-write
    "SO LONG AND THANKS FOR THE TEMPTATION" moments before impact.
    My guess is, a Sky-writing laser is much less expensive than a bunch of godless toys. Whoops, there goes my common sense again...if there's a buck to be made the more expensive option will be selected.

    Stupid meat monkeys, you were put here to suffer, to suffer tempation and vice, shucks, you're all tainted...ahahahah! I've got your original sin RIGHT HERE and I'm wearing a fashionable red bow on it.
  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:32PM (#8366459) Homepage Journal
    A mass driver is a precision piece of machinery, which would have to work under high load for a long time... testing opprotunities aren't going to be very plentiful, unless we do it on the moon. You'll have large quantities of golf ball sized debris moving through the mass driver... it's inevitable that you'll create an problem with erosion of the mass driver hardware, that might even gum up in the presence of water. The notion of billions of space golf balls had high velocity isn't appealing either.

    Consider instead a high power microwave source ionizing the mass that would have previously been cut into golf ball pieces, then using a particle accelerator instead of a mass driver. If the ion temperature is kept high enough, you'll only have pure ions to deal with, nice and conductive, and easier to control. You can then ship them out along the thrust vector of your choice, without the headaches of mechanical processing of materials.

    Electrohydrodynamic accelleration of mass can be studied in labs on the ground, thus reducing R&D costs. It also offers the advantage of being throttled to any desired rate. In the hard vacuum of space, it should be feasible to keep the ions from contacting, and thus eroding the accelerator.

    The mass will eventually condense back to solid matter, but will be quite dispersed by the time that happens, thus creating dust, instead of solid projectiles.


    • Neat idea, but the smaller you want the rock pieces, the more precise (and therefore prone to failure) your mechanisms will be, and therefore your failure rates will go up. Keep the moving parts and the precision of their machining to a minimum.

      Any mining company knows this.

      In this particular application, "large-bore" EM accelerators would seem to have the lowest overall failure rates, given vacuum "cementing" of moving parts.

      Of course this would depend on the type of asteroid. Are we talking nic
  • by fltsimbuff ( 606866 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:32PM (#8366465) Homepage
    MADMEN diverts a disaster by knocking an asteroid off course.

    2 years later, Aliens invade because we "attacked" their home planet with an asteroid.

    That's a way to initiate first contact!

    Honestly, I'd rather be incenerated by an asteroid collision than be dissected by thousands of Alien Hordes angry because we threw rocks at them.
  • Would we know? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FreshFunk510 ( 526493 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:33PM (#8366469)
    Maybe I've watched too many movies, but if an asteroid were on direct path to hit the Earth and would likely cause the extinction of mankind, do you think the government(s) would let us know about it before they took a crack at pushing it off course? Or do you think due to civil unrest that they would wait until the problem was solved to tell everyone?

    Perhaps the scientific community would let it out first.
    • Re:Would we know? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by beeplet ( 735701 )
      I think there are enough amateur astronomers who keep keep track of astroids that even if the government attempted to hide the discovery, the news would quickly spread. And there's a significant chance such an astroid would be discovered by an amateur or academic astronomer to begin with, and the details would be public knowledge almost instantly. But even supposing the government has the power to keep it secret, wouldn't they prefer to have every available person working on possible solutions?
  • Cooperation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aml666 ( 708712 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:34PM (#8366478) Homepage
    Thousands of MADMEN could be built by many nations and when launched

    We couldn't even cooperate on the International Space Station (still not done). How would many nations work together on a defense system?
  • Playing the odds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seniorcoder ( 586717 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:39PM (#8366535)
    It seems that much time has been spent calculating the odds of a killer asteroid wiping out all life on Earth.
    Has any time been spent calculating the odds of a killer maniac (or group thereof) wiping out all life on Earth?

    As an rough estimate, with the Doomsday Clock [bullatomsci.org] as a reference, I humbly propose that the odds of a maniac killing us all are massively higher than the rogue asteroid issue.

    Maybe we should be putting available cash towards world peace as a slightly higher priority.

    • Sorry, but no amount of money will buy peace.

      People will fight and kill for what they want. Peace always takes a back seat to anger, greed, ideology and a belief in inevitable victory.
  • by Frennzy ( 730093 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:42PM (#8366577) Homepage
    I can't believe people would be as short sighted as to say 'the chances are so slim' blah blah blah.

    If you had RTFA, they address those odds pretty well. The odds of getting another Tunguska sized impact are roughly 1 per 1000 years. That's an *average* people. To break it down, it could theoretically happen tomorrow. Further, if you had RTFA, you would note that an object of roughly the same size as the estimated Tunguska object (150 meters across) which was first discovered this year just passed within 3.8 million miles of our planet. That's roughly 16 times (two bytes) the distance from us to the moon....or pretty damn close.

    These are ideas. If they sit around and come up with 1000 bad ideas for every good one, I still don't care. That one good idea might save my ass...or my family's collective ass.

    There's always people who won't believe it can happen to them, though. Look at all the folks who insisted that, because of the SF quake in 1906, that they would be safe 'for their lifetime' since it couldn't happen again. Whoops. Tell that to the folks smashed in their cars when the elevated roadway collapsed. Or, 'Well, we know Mt. St. Helens is a Volcano, but it hasn't erupted since we've been keeping track...so it'll be safe as long as I'm alive.' Tell that to those folks who chose to stay and whose bodies will never be found underneath 100's of feet of mud.

    Hell, the odds of being struck by lightning are VERY slim...but plenty of research goes into preventing that, and no one complains. The odds of being shot and killed are miniscule...but look how much money we spend on prevention. But as soon as you begin researching something that could, quite literally, kill millions of people in an instant, you're branded a 'waste of time and money'.

    Tell you what. Give me back the taxes I spent that went to teaching your children, and I'll gladly redirect them to fund this type of research.
  • Serious Problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:56PM (#8366763) Journal
    It is almost inevitable that any incoming rock will be rotating on all 3 axes. To move it efficiently would require these beasties being smart enough to know when to throw their rock. That's doable.

    But how often will one of these things be in the right place at the right time? You would need hundreds if not thousands sitting and digging and waiting their turn.

    How much will these things weigh? With a nuke generator, and drilling and launching equipment to handle a pound of rock at a time over and over, say 1000 pounds max.

    If that thing isn't going to get the chance to launch 1000 one pound chuncks of rock, due to not being pointed in the right direction often enough, you'd do better to slam the things into the rock to try to move it.

    I think the best idea yet is building a bunch of large engines and fuel tanks, going out and capturing some rocks, herding them into stable orbit at L-4, and strap on the engines. If they're ever needed they can easily fall out of L-4, slingshot around the moon, and head out towards the incoming. A properly placed kinetic swat will send it off into a safe orbit whether or not it breaks up.
    • Re:Serious Problems (Score:5, Informative)

      by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @06:25PM (#8367062)
      It is almost inevitable that any incoming rock will be rotating on all 3 axes.

      That's physically impossible. In the absence of torque, a rotating object will rotate about precisely one axis. It is possible for objects to "tumble," i.e., continually change the direction of their angular momentum vector, but this only occurs if there is a similarly complex external torque. If the external torque is constant, the resulting effect is called "nutation" or "precession," but it is not tumbling.

      For an example, consider the Saturnian moon Hyperion, which is irregularly shaped and thus tumbles chaotically under the influence of the gravity of Saturn and the nearby moon Titan. However, if we removed Hyperion from the vicinity of Saturn and put it out in space far from any external forces, it would rotate quite simply around one axis only.

      Asteroids do not "tumble" unless they are A) very irregularly shaped and B) extremely close to a massive body, which can supply a tidal torque.

  • Madmen? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @06:01PM (#8366816) Homepage Journal
    Are they really going to launch Howard Dean up there?

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.