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B612 Foundation Loses Partnership With NASA; Asteroids Not a Significant Risk 182

StartsWithABang writes: Yes, asteroids might be humanity's undoing in the worst-case scenario. It's how the dinosaurs went down, and it could happen to us, too. The B612 foundation has been working to protect us by mapping and then learning to deflect potential threats to our planet, but their proposed mission needed $450 million, a goal they've fallen well short of. As a result, NASA has severed their partnership, which is a good thing for humanity: the risk assessment figures show that worrying about killer asteroids is largely a waste.
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B612 Foundation Loses Partnership With NASA; Asteroids Not a Significant Risk

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  • Black Swan (Score:2, Troll)

    by gtall ( 79522 )

    Yep, the chances of one getting us is small. On the other hand, if one does come, we'll look like foots just before we kiss our asses goodbye.

  • In a human's lifetime, the odds are unbelievably low, as in, almost nonexistent.

    In the next 500 years? 1,000 years? A bit more, but still low.

    However, while very low, if it were to happen, it makes everything else pointless and redundant. If we're wiped out, then our saving $450 million doesn't really matter much, now does it?

    • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @11:57AM (#50661993) Journal
      What if giant alien slugs attack? We should probably spend the $450 million developing space-capable salt-guns, just in case. I mean, sure the odds are really low, but if the slugs do come then it would make everything else pointless and redundant.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I think in that case a-salt rifles would be more appropriate

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
        Careful, at this rate, we might have to put a price to a human life (or even the human race) which is not very PC.
        • The price of the human race is everything.

          All of it. No amount of stuff or money is worth what the whole human race is worth.

          That was easy, I need a Staples big red button. :)

      • Yea, I knew some snark would come along with that silly point.

        Earth has been hit by multiple large rocks already, we know they exist, we can see them today, right now.

        That makes it a real, if unlikely, threat. Space slugs are not a real threat.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 ) <> on Monday October 05, 2015 @12:52PM (#50662529) Journal

          Space slugs are not a real threat.

          Sure... That's what they want us to think. Wait - are you one of them and trying to fool us into a false sense of security? I'm on to you!!!

          On the internet, nobody knows you're a space slug.

        • Kang and Kodos beg to differ.
      • I would say the odds of us getting hit by a city-killer space-rock tomorrow is infinitely higher than of you ever putting together a reasoned justification for your own continued existence. Considering all the resources you are wasting, you should fix that.
      • Excuse me sir, can you spare a minute so I can explain to you about the GIANT SPACE GOAT [] that is coming to eat the planet?
        We need a crash program to build a space ark so our celebrities like Snooki & Kanye can escape destruction.
        Mars One is valiant first effort...
      • What if giant alien slugs attack? We should probably spend the $450 million developing space-capable salt-guns, just in case.

        Well, since a couple of tons of rock salt travelling at a couple of km/s in the opposite direction would do a number on an asteroid/comet as well, I'm all for that.

        Dual use technology is just smart economics. So while we wait for the slugs (any day now) they could shore up our asteroid/comet defences.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      On the other hand, if it's big enough to wipe out life on Earth we wouldn't be able to stop it anyway.
      • Are you sure about that? 100% completely sure?

        What if we had 50 years warning? Still sure?

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )
          Are you sure B612 could come up with something that would work on even a small asteroid? They didn't meet any of their project goals to date.
          • No, I'm not... maybe they aren't the people to be doing this... perhaps someone else should...

            As far as what would work on an asteroid, even a very large one, there are multiple ideas on what could work. Depending on your time frame, everything from solar sails to long duration ion engines to nuclear weapons.

            Simply painting it white might work, if you have 50 years notice, since it would affect the orbital path very slightly which works over time.

          • There is nothing to come up with. Seriously. The tech is, given enough resources, trivial. The B612 foundation solved that problem in the early 1970's - amazingly even before the foundation existed.
        • by tuxgeek ( 872962 )

          First .. the stupid: ..

          "What if we had 50 years warning? Still sure?"
          "We already know where 99% of the extinction event type asteroids are. We'll have plenty of warning."

          Yea, right .. Then this []

      • Nonsense. Deflecting an asteroid is trivial. This is why the guys at the B612 foundation changed focus from that task to the task of actually finding the city killers out there. We can't deflect if we can't detect.
        • Deflecting an asteroid is anything but trivial. We really don't know the best way to do it. We can put a small amount of mass anywhere in the Solar System, but that's not really impressive compared to the task.

          However, the more precisely we have plotted the city-killers, the better off we are. If we can predict an impact in 30 years, for example, we can avoid collision if we can nudge the rock just a very, very little. We can study the rock in detail and come up with a specific engineering plan. We

          • Deflecting an asteroid is anything but trivial.

            Technically it is trivial. It will have a significant cost, but compared to losing a major city, the cost is going to be trivial. We can deflect very large masses at a cost significantly below the cost of the Iraq war. In some cases, as someone pointed out, "painting it white" could be sufficient. The only important factor is detection. Given enough time we can move just about anything that is likely to impact us. The easiest wold be to increase (or perhaps decrease) the objects orbital velocity a tiny amou

            • I maintain that it it not currently trivial, and that if we find we need to do it we're going to find problems we haven't considered. It's definitely doable, but even technically it's non-trivial.

              As far as nukes go, why would they be dumb? They're the most compact energy we've got, and if we can put even some of the force into nudging an asteroid that might work. Maybe it can blast some of the surface off for use as reaction mass for the rock. That's probably the technically easiest way, if it works.

              • technically it's non-trivial

                As they say - rocket science isn't exactly rocket's easy bordering on trivial, but might be a tad expensive.

                As far as nukes go, why would they be dumb?

                Generally because blowing the blasted thing up isn't really going to help much. However, your question shows you have not read up on this stuff. You should. A tug is far easier, and has far less unknown side-effects.

                • Every time I look at rocket science, it seems to be simple. Every time I look at rocket engineering, it seems to get really hairy.

                  Yeah, I should read up more on this stuff. It's interesting, and apparently my previous reading is now out of date.

    • by mothlos ( 832302 )

      People are notoriously bad at rationally assessing risk and this is a clear example of one common pattern. People are much more worried about uncommon, but catastrophic risks than they are about common, moderately costly risks. This is exacerbated by risks which reinforce an existing world-view.

      It should then come as no surprise that people who believe we should be investing more in space technologies would have a distorted view of the risk posed by asteroid impacts.

      • Don't misunderstand...

        I'm not afraid of terrorism or being attacked by sharks, etc.

        I fully understand that I'm far more likely to be killed in my car, or by my bad eating habits, then any of those risks.

        The issue with an asteroid is that if it is a big one, then it can end the entire human race. It is very, very, very, very, very unlikely, even within my great, great, great children's lifetime.

        But if it happens, then everything else is meaningless. It is such a binary outcome that we should at least care

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )
          NASA is already watching all known asteroids [] that might be a threat. So don't worry, it isn't going to happen.
          • There is also the problem with impactors we don't know about. NASA has a pretty good handle on the major potential impactors, true, but from the article you link to:

            NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.

            95% is not 100% (or 99.9%), so there is some significant distance to go yet.

            One problem though that asteroid charting projects will not help with this that ~20% of the potential threat comes from long period comets that we only see for the first time as they fall in past the outer planets, a matter of months, rather than years before they cross

    • How about saving 450M off military spending right now and do the damn Asteroid Research with it? Just sayin'.
      450M can be saved by having each American donate 1.5 dollars once to research. One less cheap beer this month would pretty much cover it for two people.

    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      We will be wiped out one way or another. Humanity or post humans will not survive as a species forever no matter what. If that makes life meaningless then well life *is* meaningless. Deal with it.
  • Stupid article. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    450 million is chump change for the knowledge that we need to eliminate a 1 in 100,000 risk for the entire planet. One single subway line for one US city costs upwards of a billion dollars.

    The project was cancelled because NASA is underfunded, not because it's not worthy of funding.

    • The project was cancelled because NASA is underfunded, not because it's not worthy of funding.

      No, the project was cancelled because the B612 Foundation failed to uphold it's end of the contract - they've routinely failed to meet deadlines and to make the reports they're contractually obligated to do.

  • Stupid Headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @12:04PM (#50662071)

    B612 lost their Space Act Agreement because they were missing their deadlines and because they weren't talking to NASA about it. I had several people at NASA tell me that they were frustrated about the lack of communication from B612 about their problems. It was only a matter of time before the SAA agreement was canceled.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hate on asteroid detection all you want, call it a waste of time and money if you must, but the partnership drop is actually due to a recent asteroid detection proposal accepted by NASA for consideration called NEOcam. []

    NASA policy as laid forth in the institution's founding charter, the Space Act, is to avoid competing with private institutions using public money (their baby, JPL).

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      Hate on asteroid detection all you want, call it a waste of time and money if you must, but the partnership drop is actually due to a recent asteroid detection proposal accepted by NASA for consideration called NEOcam. []

      NASA policy as laid forth in the institution's founding charter, the Space Act, is to avoid competing with private institutions using public money (their baby, JPL).

      No, I don't think so. Amy Mainzer's NEOCAM proposal has been in play for several years now, NASA has very broad authority about space act agreements, and the particular SAA with B612 was a no-exchange of funds trade of DSN support for a first cut on asteroid data. If B612 had flown, it might have made the JPL proposal overtaken by events, but that would have made the Discovery program officers happy (by freeing up time and money for the other candidates). I don't thin that the SAA was canceled as JPL prote

  • by AbsoluteXyro ( 1048620 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @12:08PM (#50662107)
    Myopia will be our species' downfall. The sad thing is, we will have known better. The universe has given us plenty warning, many truths stare us down, but short term profit and willful ignorance will blind us to the bitter end. I wonder how many intelligent (by human standards) species across the universe have been wiped out similarly?
    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      From the looks of things it's not like they're just giving up. It looks like they're giving up because this group isn't meeting goals, being open, and because there are other options that are capable of doing those things. I don't even think they're being miserly - or myopic - but are just going with an alternative because this group of people appear to be complete and utter failures. Perhaps someone else can opine but that's what I've gathered.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Watching for a rock heading to destroy our planet such that we can try to prepare and strategize in advance is a huge waste.... Oh I would love to understand your basis for establishing value..

    • The further ahead we detect such things, the less effort it will take to solve the problem. A 1% course change when it's inside the Earth's orbit won't do anything to help, but that 1% course change when it's still out past Mars would be all the change needed to save us.
  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @12:21PM (#50662243)

    So one program to find giant space rocks has ended. There are others.

    But in any case, we don't have the ability at the moment to DO anything about it even if we found a rock heading for us. We'd probably need several decades to get our act together, and we have a terrible track record about responding to things like aging sewers where we can pay somebody minimum wage to fix it, versus tens of years of heavy spending (way beyond 450 mill) to come up with a way to stop the asteroid. I don't think humanity is capable of working together in the way it would need to happen.

  • One species-ending strike every 100M years and

    So with all of this taken into account, what are your odds of dying in an asteroid strike in any given year? About 1-in-70,000,000.

    So all-in-all I can assume I personally die from an asteroid strike about three times in 200M years while ignoring that the entire human species is wiped out twice.

    And if I wanted the US Department of Transportation to handle this, based on personal risk to individual US citizens alone, they could spend about $30M a year [] on asteroid prevention.

    The article sucks. It just says the risk is low and makes no attempt to compare the risk or the cost to anything

  • I am amazed that people simply do not understand the difference between, as other have pointed out, risk and chance.

    The cost of fixing the problem the B612 foundation are trying to fix is close to zero. A few hundred million is close enough to zero to be discarded entirely. The potential upside - saving a major city from an impact is enormous. Are there anyone at NASA who are not morons?

  • "[extinction 50% of species events] Every 100,000,000 years or so on average..."
    NOPE. They happen when your odds come up.
    "we know city-killer events happen at least every few millennia..."
    NOPE. They happen when your odds come up.
    "Tunguska-level events... may happen as frequently as once per century..."
    NOPE. They happen when your odds come up.
    "City-killer asteroids...will be incredibly rare: only occurring once every 100,000 years or so."
    NOPE. Hey I thought you said 'every few millennia'! But NOPE. They happ

  • Leaving aside the point I've used as a signature below for some years, it is not an entirely settled point amongst geolgists that the Chixulub impact was what did the dinosaurs (well, some of them) in.

    Within the geological profession, there is no dispute that the Chixulub impact happened, or that it was a pretty bad day, and started a pretty bed few millennia.

    Whether it was what actually "did" for the dinosaurs is a more challenged question. There was a serious environment-degrading long term terrestrial

  • Even relatively small impactors can do a tremendous amount of damage. something the size of a bus injured hundreds of people a little over a year ago in Chelyabinsk. Something the size of the Meteor Crater impactor would cause millions of casualties today. Say, most of the military casualties of World War 2 happening in a matter of minutes in a couple of adjoining countries.

    Meteor impacts are as much a hazard today as yesterday.

Information is the inverse of entropy.