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Planetary Defense (nasa.gov)
107 points by cryptoz on Jan 12, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments



I'm kinda jealous of job titles that would come out of this department... "Director of Planetary Defense", "Strategic Interstellar Command Coordinator", "Chief Planetary Defense Officer".


My first thought was "I want to work there just so I can tell people I'm with Planetary Defense when they ask what I do for a living".

The downside is the nagging feeling like you should be wearing oversized futuristic pauldrons and a ridiculous-looking Space Belt all the time.


But that's trivially solved by just buying some oversized futuristic pauldrons and a ridiculous-looking Space Belt.


You can't just buy those, you'd look like an utter fool. You have to appropriate sufficient black budget funds to have the belt fabricated at Area 51 out of meteoric iron and top secret metamaterials.


We're going to have to get the ball rolling somehow, when it comes to space fashion.

When some of us get re-orged to that remote mining outpost and are forced to share quarters with some cheap, rubbery-skinned, impolite replicants, we're just going to have to make do, and don some superfluous equipment from sporting goods.


Depends on the franchise type I guess. MCU's S.H.I.E.L.D. wear and the Starfleet uniforms from First Contact and later look pretty smart, actually. I wouldn't be afraid to go out with something like this[0].

That is, I'd have to lose some weight first.

[0] - http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20121217161450/memoryalph...


If they can create "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" from the ether, then they've probably got a handle on sugar substitutes.

The future: where everyone looks fabulous!


But no pockets? And your cellphone glued to your chest?


Didn't you hear that wearables are the future? ;).

(Also, it's prior art. USPTO, pay attention.)


It's in another department, but how about Planetary Protection Officer:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meet-nasa-s-one-an...

http://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/about


That's ironic -- The PPO is responsible for protecting other planets from us %, but this discussion is mostly about protecting us from space rocks. They're related, but in some ways they're opposites.

% as well as avoiding infection by alien organisms once sample returns become commonplace.


I'm imagining the turf battle when a space rock shows up on a collision course but also carrying extraterrestrial microbes.


The "International Earth Rotation Service" is a thing that exists [1]. It's where leap seconds come from.

[1] iers.org


And if you fail to pay their bill, you'd better hope you like the position of the sun where it is when the service shuts down. And don't forget that there may be an extra "tidal unlocking fee" that you'll have to pay before it gets reinstated.


http://www.iers.org, actually: iers.org doesn't resolve.


> http://www.iers.org, actually: iers.org doesn't resolve.

That's an embarrassing configuration oversight -- it doesn't cost any more to add the "www" prefix to one's DNS record, and in the worst case the two names can be merged as one or the other.

In the worst case, someone could hijack the unused form and use it to redirect traffic anywhere they want.


"Senior Engineer in Asteroid Dodging"


Here is a list of NEO Earth Close Approaches:

http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/

1. Not a bad ROI to save a global economy with a GDP of $77.609 trillion and population of 7.095 billion.[1]

2. The side benefit is understanding how to mine NEOs worth billions.[2]

3. I would like to buy an insurance policy against an impact. I bet it would be super cheap as there is very low risk, but would get me to Mars or ISS.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_economy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_mining


"Based on known terrestrial reserves, and growing consumption in both developed and developing countries, key elements needed for modern industry and food production could be exhausted on Earth within 50–60 years.[2] These include phosphorus, antimony, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, gold and copper"

Sounds ominous! Why aren't we more worried? Because Capitalism?


Mostly that. But realistically there's no education on any of this stuff.

For example 2017 is the year when some of the most used rare earth elements will be depleted and should be retrieved through recycling in the next years (gallium for the LCD displays is disappearing, so either we figure out the displays or massively recycle). This is not a surprise because the demand for rare earth elements has been rising exponentially, with the number of electronic devices produced :D

Although, food production is definitely getting more and more efficient. But biology of living beings on Earth is too inefficient for the current production to be sustainable. Just compare the vast amounts of food (energy) a single duck, chicken or cow needs to maintain body heat, with the weight (energy value) of meat. This coupled with growing consumption in developing countries won't really work.

Without Hot Air is an excellent book written by a problem solving pragmatist and excellent machine learning researcher David MacKay exposing the pure numbers and limits and extrapolating them carefully, to get the same conclusions. http://www.withouthotair.com/Electronic.html


Gallium supply: Wikipedia [1] says USGS estimates gallium reserves as > one megaton. Production in 2012 was an estimated 273 metric tons. I don't see us running out of gallium soon.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallium


I'm not pulling these numbers out of my butt.

There's absolutely no way that there's one million gallium reserves economically viable for extraction. If there was, the price wouldn't be that high.

Hafnium and indium too. 2017-2020.

https://scholar.google.hr/scholar?q=indium+hafnium+reserves&...


I'm sure you're not. The issue is, "economically viable" is a useless phrase by itself, and is usually used to imply "economically viable at current prices".

For most non-energy non-renewable resources, humanity can just pour more energy than they do now into securing the scarce resource, and things will be a bit more expensive, but less concentrated ores will be targetted and more expensive extraction methods used and the supply will hold up at a higher price. Substitutes will be sought and some will maybe be found, if they work out better than the now-pricier resource.

Finance abhors an inexpensive depleting natural resource it has no substitutes or emergency supply for: if it is economically viable for one investor to buy all the world's remaining supply of Technetium, he will stockpile it and trickle it out to the resource-starved market at ten times what he paid. To assert that "lack of education" is the problem is ignoring the numbers issue: it only takes a single smart investor to turn the whole market towards appreciating reality-mandated scarcity, and he earns a very large profit for educating the market.

Fossil fuel extraction concerns have a better basis: they have a floor at which it is mathematically impossible to profit from extraction, EROI<1, so long as you are using the energy you extracted to harvest more energy. I was for a period of five years or so an alarmist on this point. Even so, it looks like there exist enough positive EROI deposits to raise global CO2 by an untenable amount (an amount which depopulates >10% of the world's presentday habitation due to high wet bulb temperatures), long before we run out of coal, oil, gas, & kerogen shales.


I have a question: if squeezing a market results in a guaranteed profit, how come so few companies were able to do it, even on small markets? Goldman Sachs did it with bread and steel I think... but failed. Why would pumping cost less than the dumping makes?


Most markets in the modern world are fairly efficient. This means that they are priced appropriately for supply to meet demand, with all the most predictive facts about future supply & demand, acknowledged fairly well by the market price (which will drive expansion or contraction of that supply and demand next year). If it's possible to squeeze off supply to the market, the market has likely already been squeezed. There are billions of dollars in profits waiting for anyone to pounce on a market that is truly squeezable, and prove the rest of the investors wrong. Most markets are not especially squeezable, because that element of risk to the supplychain has already been factored into their asset prices, and substitutes or alternative supply sources become available for exploration at higher prices, which undercuts anyone attempting to squeeze supply off.

It's pretty safe to assume an equilibrium between these sorts of processes, and a lack of "glaring upcoming shortages that Capitalism Didn't Listen To Our Warnings About".

At least, up to some level - maybe two or three decades - at which uncertainty about future inflation rates and technologies renders it really risky to make long bets of any sort.


The discrepancy is probably due to different definitions of "reserve".

In the end of the day, that probably means that we'll get our gallium, but we'll have to pay more for it.


The standard answers are:

1) Known reserves likely represent a fraction of what is available because we have not had reason to search for new reserves.

2) We do not really consume any of those resources in the same way that we consume fossil fuels, so as a worst case scenario, we can simply mine them from our landfills. This arguably falls under new, more expensive, reserves.


Most likely, we're not worried because we didn't know about it. The companies that rely on/mine these materials are probably worried, but are most likely just not mentioning it since doing so would hurt their sales (and in turn lower their budget, which means they'll have less money to solve the problem).


3. I would love to sell you that insurance policy.


I'm also offering USD denominated insurance against the United States descending into anarchy.


Does such an insurance policy exist already?


> Does such an insurance policy exist already?

Not to my knowledge. I believe parent is being sarcastic. If an impact event occurs: a) claimant might be too dead to make the claim or b) markets would probably collapse, making the payout worthless. So there is very little point in buying that kind of cover, the only party with an upside is the insurer - hence parent volunteering.


USD-denominated Credit Default Swaps on US Treasuries (which were a thing in 2008) fall in this category. Any scenario bad enough for the swaps to be redeemable is one in which you are unlikely to be able to redeem them.

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-09-26/why-would-a...


Warren Buffet might sell you that. He'll insure just about anything, and the terms are interesting. There's no negotiation. You get to present 1 time the about of coverage vs the premiums you'll pay. Keep in mind, the won't take a losing bet, the premiums must be more than the risk of payout, if you want 10 dollars of coverage for an event with 10% happening, you're going to have to pay well more than $1 for the premium.

On the upside, if you're really worried about needing $10,000,000,000 of coverage, and you're willing to pay the premium, you can get it. You just have to make the deal sweet enough for him to take it. and you have to guess right the first time.


Someone should really scrape that site into an API and re-surface it to make it as well-designed as it deserves to be. Would be a fun UX/design side-project...

EDIT: The first site you linked, that is :)


I believe there is one here: https://data.nasa.gov/


There is some context in this Gizmodo article, "NASA's New Office Is Our Defense Against Death From the Skies" [1]. I thought HN would prefer the direct link to the new NASA site, however.

[1] http://gizmodo.com/nasas-new-office-is-our-defense-against-d...


This is a master stroke. The masses want to cut science funding. Rebrand as "planetary defence" and the spigots re-open.


I just finished re-reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, in which he devotes a chapter to this subject. His conclusion is that, at our current level of civilizational maturity, we're better off crossing our fingers rather than learning how to redirect asteroids, since the technology required to save the planet from a massive impact is exactly the same as that used to conduct asteroid bombardment.


I'm having trouble imagining a scenario where asteroid bombardment makes any sense in a world where nukes and ICBMs exist. Even factoring in the inconvenience of radiation it doesn't work. Too complicated, too expensive, too slow, anyone who could do it now or in the future will either have nukes or the ability to quickly acquire them.


His concern is less about global escalation to some nuke++ level of WMD, but more around rogue states or doomsday cults getting access to control systems for asteroid deflection defenses. It isn't implausible: technologically sophisticated death cults exist (e.g. Mum Shinrikyo, North Korea, ISIS/Daesh), important stuff gets hacked all the time, and I doubt most on HN would be comfortable saying "well this stuff will be really secure."

His proposed method of asteroid deflection is actually based on using nuclear explosions to shift orbits minutely far in advance of impact. Timing makes it pretty useless for war (as you point out), but very effective indeed for creating a precisely scheduled apocalypse and the global collapse and panic that likely precedes it.


Even if one insists on non-nuclear city killers, it's probably easier to get some Tungsten rods into orbit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment


Hardly a city-killer. The rods that were to be used in Project Thor would strike with the energy-equivalent of "11.5 tons of TNT".



"A first-ever robotic mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s."

Wow! That's pretty awesome, but I'm hoping they plan this one _very_ carefully and/or pick a small asteroid.


An asteroid of any dangerous size is pretty hard to move. You're not going to inadvertently tap it into a bad orbit with a hammer.

We're already able to send probes to Pluto within a few kilometers, calculating an asteroid's orbit is well within our capabilities.


> We're already able to send probes to Pluto within a few kilometers, calculating an asteroid's orbit is well within our capabilities.

Yeah calculating the orbits and movements for a simple small mass might be fairly easy. But an asteroid is irregulary shaped which makes stuff quite complex. We have failed with Philae for example...

The only way this is going to work is with a powerful nuclear bomb mounted on an interstellar rocket to blow said astroid to pieces (and these pieces should be tiny enough to vanish during atmospheric reentry), should the need arise - however the EMP would fry at least the satellites in orbit, maybe also on the ground.


Calculating the orbit of an irregularly shaped object is not difficult, just use its center of mass. What is difficult is calculating an orbit around an irregularly shaped object, unless you are far enough away that you can still ignore the irregularities.


Philae was a mechanical failure that had little to do with the shape of the comet - its harpoons failed to fire.

Nukes might be a solution of last resort for a late detection, but with enough early warning there are far more gradual and precise ways to do it (and they don't sandblast the planet, either).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_tractor


This talk from Ed Lu[1] has a lot of great illustrations and cost/benefit analysis of NEO defense measures. He is obviously a bit biased as CEO of the Sentinel Mission, but IIRC, he isn't shy to admit that.

[1] https://www.astrosociety.org/silicon-valley-astronomy-lectur...


Dear https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Asylum, please use this department for your next SyFy B end-of-the-world B movie.


This is a very exciting mission.

Does anyone have a sense of how many potential near-Earth objects have a rocky surface with large boulders as required by this mission?


Nasa has an entire department dedicated to warning people about Vietnamese soups?




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