back to article NASA to programmers: Save the Earth and fatten your wallet

NASA is teaming up with the asteroid-mining wannabes at Planetary Resources to offer $35,000 in prizes in a contest to develop algorithms to detect Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) – asteroids – with the goal of spotting those that might threaten the Earth. Actually, saving our planet from destruction is but one goal of the Asteroid …


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  1. Charles Manning

    "dinosaurs didn't have a space program" - look what happened to them

    Indeed, look what happened to them.

    According to Wonkapedia, the dinosaurs lasted 135 million years as the dominant vertebrates.

    So far we've lasted around 200,000 years and making just 1 million years seems like long odds right now.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: "dinosaurs didn't have a space program" - look what happened to them

      The dinosaurs were not a single species, but a group. A better comparison would be to how long primates have been around, around 55 million years. And the primates have finally developed a space program...

      1. Ole Juul

        Re: "dinosaurs didn't have a space program" - look what happened to them

        We do seem obsessed with organisms that look and act in ways that are similar to ours. However, spore producing organisms have been around even longer, and shown superior survival abilities. In fact it is quite possible that they do have a space program.

  2. Chairo

    "dinosaurs didn't have a space program" – and look what happened to them

    They evolved into birds and flew away?

    On a more serious note - make a boinc client that searches for non matches on photographic data and let it loose on the internet. People will happily donate their computing time and the electricity would be much better invested than for coin mining.

  3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    Dinosaurs didn't have a space program and look what happened to them.

    They're still around. There's bloody billions of the things. Some of them - such as the family Corvidae - are damned near as smart as we are.

    It isn't asteroids we should be worried about, it's the slow death of the Sun. It might sound stupid - the Sun is supposed to have a few billion years left - but it's not. There are maybe a billion years of habitability left on Earth. Long before the Sun expands into a red giant and blasts the atmosphere off this rock it will have been completely sterilized. Several estimates have the planet able to sustain truly complex, intelligent life for 300-400 million years at best.

    In geological context, that isn't all that long. That's one more mass extinction cycle. Or one more "largeish quantities of Algea into fossil fuels" cycle, to be more precise. It's this latter that matters.

    You see, the biggest issue is that fossil fuels are of finite supply. They represent the densest chemical energy source we know of and they are an absolute bitch to manufacture synthetically. Simply put: if you want to put a rocket into space fossil fuels represent the most efficient method we know of.

    Once fossil fuels are gone humanity will be facing a pretty big energy crisis. How will we generate the kind of power necessary to run our ever-increasingly-power-consuming society, let alone blast payloads into orbit?

    Going out into space with enough people and equipment to begin a space-faring civilization is going to take sending up a lot of material. The geopolitical realities of our species make a continent-long rail gun highly unlikely, we're hundreds (if not thousands) of years away from orbital tether technology and an energy-starved future humanity isn't going to be all that inclined to spare the power necessary for the electrolysis of $stupid quantities of hydrogen or the purification of $stupid quantities of aluminum.

    (Don't say "nuclear will save us" because A) people are dumb, stupid, panicky animals and I doubt they'll ever be able to overcome the conditioning of "OMG RADIATION" so they'll cut off their nose to spite their face on that regard. B) Even if we did suddenly start to grasp basic science and accept that fission is a safe form of energy there simply isn't enough fuel to sustain our society at present technology levels matching projected demands for all that long.)

    If we are ever going to get out into space with enough people and enough equipment to master the stars the time is now. Now while energy is cheap. When it can be pulled out of the ground in ready-to-use form, densely packed and easy to implement. This time will not come again for our species.

    By the time there is enough fossil fuel recreated by natural processes on Earth humanity will be dead and gone and buried. Dusts of the ages and extinct a long, long time ago. Will earth birth another space-capable race in time to use that fuel? The chances aren't good...and there's really only the one more chance after us.

    It is comforting to think that the Universe is teeming with life; that even our own small galaxy abounds with multiple life-bearing planets. It is comforting to believe in this because it removes from us the burden of seeding the Universe with the only known life to exist: Earth's.

    Humanity will die. Earth will die. Eventually, even our Sun will die...and none of that is all that far away. Personally, I think it would be a cosmically reprehensible shame if life itself died with our planet. It would be an unimaginable tragedy if it was our own shortsightedness that meant that the only species known to have ever existed to be capable of spreading this fluke of chemistry to the stars failed to do so.

    I believe that the only purpose of life is the continuation of life itself. It isn't about the continuation of our lineage, or even our species. The stakes are bigger than that. It is about ensuring that life manages to outlast the stars themselves; that the Universe is given purpose beyond mere existence by the fact that life still exists to experience it's wonders.

    Our time is now. It may never come again. If Earth is, in truth, the only place in the universe where life arose - and until we have solid confirmation it exists elsewhere we must assume this to be true - then we must take advantage of what we have and act. Hie thee to the stars, earthkin; we have a duty to the universe itself to spread the seeds of experience before the brief candle of our existence is blown out.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      "It isn't asteroids we should be worried about, it's the slow death of the Sun."

      Just one remark : it's the slow death of the Sun, versus the 100% chance that a "planet-killer" asteroid will hit us in the next million years.

      So, not to be picky, but statistically speaking you're better off fixing the problem that is going to hit you tomorrow before worrying about the problem that will hit your grandchildren's grand-grand-grandchildren.

      But yeah, I agree we need to get into space.

      Because space, dammit.

  4. JackFrost

    This may seem selfish, but $1400 doesn't seem a fire price for saving the planet.

    1. Sander van der Wal

      Indeed. And compared to the amount of money going to be made from mining asteroids, they could as well give you an ice cream instead.

      Couldn't find anything in the article about the rights. Will NASA demand that the rights on the code be transferred to them?

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Interesting announcement

    I think I might set up a team of students here.

  6. Crisp

    If my algorithm finds a solid gold asteroid...

    and it gets mined, do I get a share of the profits?

    1. hplasm

      Re: If my algorithm finds a solid gold asteroid...

      Certainly- just as the price of gold crashes...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You saved the world. Thanks. Here's $1400 - buy yourself a new laptop.

    How about a tropical island of your own choosing. No taxes and a handsome trust fund for you and your descendants for ever. And a free Sky subscription.

  8. Danny van der Weide

    Saving the Earth from a civilization-crippling asteroid impact: How exactly?

    So, suppose that someone finds this civilization-crippling rock...

    What is humanity supposed to do about it? Send up Bruce Willis and his crack team with a nuke under their arms?

    As far as I've understood, all 'solutions' are theoretical at best.

    The best you can do is spend your $1400 in beer, laying at the pool and watch the world go to pieces.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Saving the Earth from a civilization-crippling asteroid impact: How exactly?

      The prospect of extinction would be a pretty good motivation to start putting even remotely plausible theories in practice,and the cost be damned.

      As they say, nothing clears the mind like the sight of the gallows.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How are they going to gather the data these programs will work on? The infrared sensors now currenty in use? You do realize that they are not enough, right? Active radar would seem to be a much better way to detect approaching objects. Radar should be able to tell how big they are, what their direction of travel is, one should be able to take that data and work out the object's probable orbit is now and what is likely to be it orbit in futre. All of the real skull sweat is already done when you choose to use radar. Just think about it. If anti-missile systems can actually get close to hitting an incoming object and they can do better than that nowadays, then it should not be that much trouble to adapt them for use against fast moving objects in space. Oh, and we have yet to work out a plan for what to do if we detect a planet killer. You do realize that nuking the gorramned thing once it is hollywood close to us won't work, right?

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