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UN urged to adopt asteroid impact treaty

Monday, 19 February 2007 — by

The more we learn about our world, the more we appreciate the fragility of things and the more precious this blue planet seems to us. We’re destroying this world and we’re also pushing the resources available to us to the very edge. On the positive side, we know what we’re doing wrong and we are learning how to fix our mistakes.

However, beyond fixing our own terrestrial trials & tribulations, there are issues abroad that lurk in the furthest reaches of our solar system that possess the power to reshape our world in ways that are beyond our means to control and in ways that could cause all life to perish.

“Moves are afoot in the astronaut community to hustle the UN into adopting a treaty which would set a deflection mission in motion if Earth was threatened by a large asteroid impact.

A series of four meetings organised by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) will seek to draw up a protocol which the United Nations can act upon when potentially Earthbound large objects are identified. The first is set for Strasbourg in May, and the invited group of space, engineering, legal and diplomatic luminaries will deliver its recommendations to the UN, which is following the discussions.”

The threat of an asteroid impact is no longer a perceived threat measured in astrological terms, it’s a real threat measured in lives first and then dollars, pounds, yens, francs et cetera right in the here & now.

“The number of known near-Earth asteroids which have a chance of hitting Earth in the next 100 years currently stands at 127, but that figure is expected to rocket to as high as 10,000 by 2020, after Congress changes NASA’s mandate to include surveying space for such threats. Schweickart told reporters the boost in public awareness as more objects are identified will force politicians to act.”

Waiting for politicians to do the right thing isn’t exactly the foundations of a solid start. Worse still, the focus of politicians is often ‘of the moment’ and rarely fixed on a firm, future target, such is the state of modern politics. Even worse still, what is being proposed would need to span the political divide not just of each nation, but across all nations:

“The biggest problem for any treaty as Schweickart sees it is the inherently altruistic nature of anwering the problem – by funding a global plan nations would have to accept individual sacrifices for the good of the whole of planet. Familiarity with the toothless Kyoto Protocol on climate change is instructive on how difficult that can be to achieve.

He added that there would need to be an understanding from governments that surveying the sky for threats needs to be thought of separately from the rest of astronomy: ‘What we’re talking about here is not a science – what we’re talking about is public safety.’

That view was backed up by NASA Ames asteroid hazard chief David Morrison, who said: ‘This has gone from being an esoteric statistical argument to one about real events.’”

To make such an idea real requires an unprecedented level of international cooperation. Nations such as India and China who are developing their own space programs would need to be brought on board along side more established nations such as the USA and Russia, along with NASA and ESA to help build a fully international project, internationally funded and backed to help protect the interests of every living thing on Earth…

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