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Capture an asteroid? Piece of cake

May 24, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, is joined by Firouz Naderi, director for solar system exploration, and John Brophy, electric propulsion engineer, during Bolden's visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena on Thursday. NASA engineers are developing an ion engine for an asteroid capture mission later this decade.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, is joined by Firouz Naderi, director… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

“What could go wrong?”

If you’re a woman, you’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase -- probably more than once -- from your father/grandfather/husband/boyfriend/male friends, shortly before the aforementioned types did something really dumb.

It’s a guy thing -- and yes, ladies, you already know the answer, even if you politely keep quiet and let the carnage occur.

So many of you probably weren’t that surprised when you read that a trucker hauling an oversize load took out a bridge in Washington state Thursday. And you probably imagined the conversation in the truck’s cab just before impact:

“Gee, Willy, don’t you think that bridge looks kinda short and narrow?”

“Naw. What could go wrong?”

Need more proof? OK. I give you one Jesse James. The motorcycle bad boy, no stranger to shooting himself in the foot (see: Sandra Bullock, cheating on), took it one step further Tuesday, chopping off his pinkie in a workshop accident.

This time, we don’t have to imagine what went wrong. James helpfully told us:

“I was working in the shop today and just like my glove got caught in one of the machines and took my finger off. I didn't even know it actually got cut off until I like got five steps away and I'm like, 'Oh man, I think my finger got cut off,' ” he recounted for TMZ Live.

“So my wife [Alexis DeJoria] and I were on the floor looking around for the piece of finger so we could put it on ice and haul ... to the hospital,” he added.

And yes, it was about then that DeJoria was thinking Bullock got off lucky.

Anyway, both of these incidents sprang to mind Friday when I stumbled on this headline: “Asteroid capture: NASA plans to drag space rock into lunar orbit.”

That’s right. As my colleague Deborah Netburn writes:

NASA unveiled a multistep plan to rendezvous with a smallish asteroid, put it in what looks like a giant reflective garbage bag, and bring it into lunar orbit, earlier this year.

Commercial tie-in with Hefty bags, check!

Once the space rock is in a stable orbit around the moon, astronauts could land on it and bring small chunks of it back to Earth.

Commercial tie-in with Home Depot’s landscaping department, check!

In order for the asteroid capture to work, scientists will have to find exactly the right space rock. They'd like it to be between 20 and 30 feet in length, moving at the relatively slow pace (for an asteroid) of 1.5 miles per second, and in an orbit that will take it close to the Earth and moon in the early 2020s.

Commercial tie-in with Touchstone Pictures, check!

Now, I’m no rocket scientist, unlike the guys at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena who helped hatch this scheme. (And I say guys because I'm pretty sure no women were involved in this deal; see above). But I have seen “Armageddon” (spoiler alert: OK, no, it isn’t “Lawrence of Arabia,” but I almost cried when Bruce Willis bought it), and I do seem to recall that the premise was Earth was in danger of being obliterated by some big rock from outer space.

Plus, weren’t the dinosaurs kings of the Earth (or not, in a nod to you “intelligent design” folks) until an asteroid plowed into us 65 million years ago?

And now we want to capture one and haul it to the moon? Really?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of spaceflight. I’m fond of those rovers we’ve sent to Mars. If I had the money, I’d probably sign up for one of those $200,000 flights into (almost) outer space that Virgin Galactic is promising.

It’s just that, well, OK, I can’t quite get those four little words out of my head:

What could go wrong?


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