Newswise — A century ago this week, an event in far-off Siberia rang a cosmic wake-up call for Earth. That explosive event over remote Tunguska is generally viewed by scientists as a large space rock that pierced through the atmosphere of Siberia, then detonated to flatten some 2,000 square kilometers of trees.
One hundred years later, there is certainty in the stars " the thought that an asteroid loitering out there in space has Earth's name on it. But today, a matching of technology and space governance could negate such events from happening in the future.
"The Tunguska event just 100 years ago reminds us that the threat of an asteroid strike is real," said Ray Williamson, Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation (SWF). "If that object had struck in New York City or London, it would have killed hundreds of thousands and created untold fear in human hearts. Yet, as near Earth object strikes go, it was relatively small," he pointed out.
"We need to be much better prepared than we are today to deal with this important, if uncommon, threat by creating the international institutions and governance methods to find objects likely to strike Earth and devise the means to divert them from Earth's path," Williamson explained.
Thwarting the threat of Earth-colliding asteroids " is on the action agenda list for former Apollo astronaut, Russell L. (Rusty) Schweickart.
While a civilization-smashing impact from a space object is a low probability, it is not zero"¦and there are other trouble-makers out there too. They are the smaller asteroids, in far greater number and could wreak havoc on our world, but in a more localized way.
Speaking this month at a Secure World Foundation luncheon at the University of Colorado - Boulder, Schweickart emphasized that what is needed is an international protocol " "mission rules" -- that deal with asteroids that are menacing to Earth. Such a plan could calls upon nations around the globe to consider and embrace steps that can help mitigate the destructive nature stemming from an asteroid striking our planet.
Tree of life
Schweickart's talk drew from his chairman position of the Association of Space Explorers' Committee on Near Earth Objects and as Chairman of the B612 Foundation, dedicated to detecting, tracking and deflecting near Earth objects (NEOs).
Coming to grips with the NEO challenge, Schweickart emphasized, is more a matter of humanity's readiness not to be dinosaurs " thought by many scientists to have been the victims of a huge asteroid impact some 65 million years ago. And that's why we on Earth, he added, are faced with a key question: "To be"¦or not to be?"
Indeed, over billions of years, the Tree of Life here on Earth has been whacked time and time again by what Schweickart labeled as "the crazy cosmic gardener."
"The good news is that we can do something about this," the former astronaut explained. "The marriage of we human beings and the machines that we've created are now at a level of capability which enables us to fire the crazy cosmic gardener. We can stop this process from occurring again."
Working with the Association of Space Explorers and the talents of the B612 Foundation " and supported in part by a partnership with the Secure World Foundation -- the former astronaut has organized a series of workshops on the NEO threat, geared to creating a protocol for submission to the United Nations for its deliberation. These are to be spelled out in a mission rules document for protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts.
Moreover, the document is to be briefed to stakeholders around the globe " from spacefaring nations and agencies, as well as to key decision-makers in leadership positions.
"To me, this is the great test," Schweickart concluded in his SWF-sponsored lunch talk. "The real question is"¦do we -- as a human community -- have the maturity to understand that our life together is worth more than our individual self-interest or national interest? This is the space governance issue."
The threat from near Earth objects is one of several key subject areas for the Secure World Foundation. The topic is highlighted on the organization's new website that is now online at:
"Our website will feature information on space governance generally, with specific focus on space situational awareness, space traffic management, mitigation of orbital debris, avoidance of a space arms race, near Earth objects, cooperative Earth observation and space security," said Phil Smith, Communications Director of the Secure World Foundation.
"Each of these sections features articles and papers, reports, policy documents, fact sheets and links. The space security section includes detailed information on space and arms control treaties, and draws attention to the space activities of many countries," Smith added. As part of the site, readers can sign up for the organization's bi-weekly newsletter as well as browse topic archives, he said.