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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 7, 2008 10:18 AM

The risks of unstable objects

Posted by David Postman

California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says the United States is unprepared for the prospect of a giant asteroid crashing into earth.

I was once told the chances of being killed by an asteroid were the same as getting a flush in Las Vegas. Well, I’ve actually gotten a flush in Vegas, a royal flush.

I think he’s on to something. A new threat-level system should be implemented right away. One recently discovered asteroid has a 1-in-200,000 chance of hitting the earth. That could be threat-level “straight flush,” with a nice graphic of the poker hand. As the asteroid gets closer, the poker hand gets changes to a full-house. When the signs that should be erected in every town show two pairs, it'd be time to don the hard hat and catcher’s mask that should soon be as much a part of every American household as duct tape and plastic sheets.

Rohrbacher wants the United States to finance a system that could potentially blow up asteroids as they orbit outer space. If we don’t fight them there, we’ll be fighting them here. It’d also be important to raise awareness of asteroids and enlist the help of ordinary Americans. During World War II, Americans were given playing cards with silhouettes of enemy aircraft so they could be trained as spotters in case of attack. Being able to differentiate between friendly rocks and potentially earth-shattering asteroids is essential. We wouldn’t want to make Americans suspicious of every rock-form, of course. There are rock hounds who have no reason to be fearful. But having our neighbors trained that if they see something, say something, could head off disaster.

Already our enemies trading partner are heralding our weakness on this front.

Rohrabacher has proposed a new government agency to undertake the job of identifying, deflecting and mitigating “potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.” He sees the Office of Potentially Hazardous Near-Earth
Object Preparedness, or OPHNEOP,

performing an architectural tradeoff assessment and selecting a set of deflection proposals as primary procedures and systems that will provide the best opportunities for deflection-preparation, taking into account adequate and short-warning collision timelines, as well as relevant asteroid and comet characteristics;

We can count on Rohrabacher taking science seriously. After all, his love of science led him

to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last week to say that his recent comparison of global warming to "dinosaur flatulence" was a joke blown out of proportion, it was reported Sunday.

Rohrabacher’s anti-asteroid credentials are also helped by the fact that he is currently working to protect some Americans from a more near-term threat from a potentially hazardous earth-born object: He wants the Republican National Convention shielded from President George Bush.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to see him at the convention,” said Mr. Rohrabacher, who is especially irked with Mr. Bush for his stance on immigration. He said the president “should stay home from the Republican convention, and everybody would be better off.”

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