US-Russia And The Asteroid Threat – OpEd

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has just finished his visit in Moscow to discuss Syria and the threat of terrorism and other related issues with the Russian officials, but conspicuously absent from the agenda of his visit is the real and clear danger posed by the threat from space, that is, the asteroids, one of which is due to brush past earth on Wednesday, April 19.

In fact, Russia and US have become allies against the asteroid threat since the signing of an anti-asteroid agreement in 2013, initiated by the then energy secretary and scientist Ernst Muniz. This agreement calls for cooperation on research on asteroid defense, raising the prospect of a US-Russia nuclear cooperation, given the potential feasibility of nukes in deflecting or destroying an incoming asteroid — for good reason. The asteroid due for a close flyby next week at a speed of some 60,000 miles per hour is over one mile long and capable of releasing the equivalent of almost 2000 Hiroshima bombs; if it hits the earth, it would cause massive tsunamis and giant fireballs wiping out a good chunk of humanity.

In a twist of irony, the NASA officials have reassured us that there is “zero chance” of earth’s collision by this giant asteroid and, yet simultaneously, brand it as a “potentially hazardous object” since it is considered a “near-earth” object and also because of a small uncertainty about its size and orbit, i.e., its path’s trajectory in space, which has its own version of air pockets that can affect an asteroid’s direction, just as its collision with another asteroid can do so, as was the case with the meteor that exploded 27 miles about the ground in Russia in 2014, causing extensive damage and came by undetected from the Sun’s direction; this new one is apparently 60 times bigger, and was detected only 2011.

Clearly, humanity is at risk by the asteroid threat and inaction is not an option. World’s scientists including some NASA scientists such as Joseph Nuth have recently lamented our planetary lack of adequate defence against this threat, which has been completely overshadowed by humanity’s other priorities, which pale in comparison when considering the fact that our species survival depends on an effective anti-asteroid defence — that may require the use of nuclear weapons.

Yet, despite some feeble initiatives to track and monitor the asteroids, NASA had admitted that some ten percent of the incoming asteroids, i.e., over 10,000, are still not covered by their system, which requires a great deal more funding and human resources, such as increased number of observation points around the world.

What is more, the present efforts in asteroid prevention are still in the stage of infancy and initial testing, basically proceeding at snail speed, again mainly due to the woefully inadequate resources committed to these projects, decried by the world’s scientists, some of whom are adamant about the need for nuclear-ready space missions as part of a contingency plan vis-à-vis any asteroid on a collision course with our vulnerable planet. This is one of several options studied at the moment, all of which are still on paper and, on the whole, out of sync with the urgency of the matter that calls for a massive allocation of new resources that, in turn, can even boost the economy by producing new jobs.

Hence, it is only logical that US and Russia, which have also collaborated in promoting a UN-based asteroid information network, put aside their present cold war differences and enhance their cooperation for the sake of planetary survival. It is in the vital national interests of both nations to do so, given the common concern about the asteroid threat, that eclipses any human threat such as terrorism by a huge margin. This problem is, unfortunately, sidelined due to the preoccupation with geopolitical considerations, pointing at humanity’s folly.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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