Our lives are currently in the hands of amateurs.
Or at least that’s one way to look at it. With the US Shutdown causing NASA to close its doors (at least publicly – a skeleton staff of 600 remain to look after the ISS and similar projects) our skies are no longer being watched by the professionals boasting satellites in their armoury.
Instead, our impending (statistically improbable) doom brought about by giant rocks meandering through space must be averted by Peter and Mary, aged 62, who are in a word, amateurs.
Amateur astronomers such as Peter and Mary (perhaps who are now some of the most important fictional astronomers in non-existence) are suddenly crucial to the survival of the human race.
Without people like Peter and Mary, and the normally keen eyes of NASA and their robot sensors, spending their time scanning our skies, we don’t know how close we all are to being obliterated by a rogue planetoid causing mischief amongst the inner planets.
Reality check. Amateur astronomers are unlikely to have the gear needed to scan the skies for disaster movie fodder, however our astronomers and scientists are suddenly playing a crucial role in maintaining systems, satellite tracking and even weather reporting. They are proving how crucial the private sector and educational institutes are in this sector when a government renders itself so impotent to defend their own people (yes I’m well aware that Bruce Willis could be hired by the Space X to blow the shit out of a mighty meteor, especially since his selling out to do Sky ads).
Whilst I admit the chance of all humanity being rendered a mere fraction of a bug-splatter on the giant windscreen of time, coincidentally occurring during a US Gov shutdown is unlikely, it’s important to address how much we (and the US people who actually fund the organisation) depend on NASA and what we before it [most likely] becomes a research body as opposed to its all action 1960s incarnation.
As a human race have learnt an incredible, almost incomprehensible amount about ourselves and our planet thanks to the hard work of the square glassed faces at NASA. Whilst noisy young upstarts will slowly pick up the grunt work where the behemoth left off with the Shuttle program, it’s clear there is no national or international space program or even private sector equivalent to carry on it’s incredible legacy.
Is this a problem you may ask? Do we really need all this space exploration and funding? Whilst we probably won’t see heavenly annihilation in our lifetimes, at least smaller strikes are perhaps more likely than we thought accordingly to latest meteor research and these are the kinds of things we can learn more about, both through government agencies and privately funded research.
In short, we need to make sure our skies are monitored, if only to keep our communications satellites free from space debris and our astronauts safe from political squabbling to make sure they can boldly keep on spinning round our little blue planet at 7.71 km/s.