January 23, 2013
Greg Bear Thinks We Are Too Complacent On Asteroids

Science fiction writer Greg Bear thinks we should take more seriously the threat posed by large asteroids like Apophis that are periodically flying by the Earth.

Yet there's always a possibility we don't have these measurements exactly right. Something could happen at any point in Apophis' orbit to modify its course, just a smidgen. A tiny collision with another object, way out beyond Mars? What could change between now and 2029, or during any orbit thereafter?

Apophis masses at more than 20 million tons. If it hit Earth, the impact would unleash a blast the equivalent of over a billion tons of TNT. That's not an extinction event, but it could easily cause billions of deaths and months, if not years, of climate disruption.

I share Bear's concern. My personal motto: First, don't die. Wouldn't we feel really really really foolish to wake up one morning to the news that in a few days a newly discovered asteroid was going to hit the Earth and kill 99.9999% of us? We ought to have a much bigger effort to identify all the asteroids flying around. Plus, we ought to develop asteroid deflection defenses at various levels of depth. We should have near Earth and distant capability for shifting asteroid orbits.

The likelihood that governments are going to remain pretty lame about asteroid defenses reminds me: preppers (people who prefer for WTSHTF) ought to think a lot more about underground redoubts. It is not just that underground is the place to be when a massive asteroid is going to cause supersonic blasts of air to sweep around the Earth and then cause an extensive period of darkness.

Underground bug-out places have other advantages as well. Of course, underground is the place to be when a VE-8 volcanic eruption blacks out the sun, stops photosynthesis, and causes freezing temperatures in the summer. But also underground living has great advantages should an electro-magnetic pulse (natural or human-caused) fry the electric grid and cause governments to collapse. If your underground redoubt has well hidden entrances the big advantage is that people won't know you are there. While society turns into a scene from Mad Max you can live a fairly normal life (at least if you like reading books in low light conditions).

The question in my mind: is underground construction too costly for a refuge? You still need air and electric power. So how to make an affordable and very well hidden underground place to hide WTSHTF?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 January 23 09:33 PM 

David Yerle said at January 23, 2013 10:51 PM:

You have a point. The question is whether we already have the technology to deflect those asteroids and how much it would cost to implement it. Another possibility is we could actually make things worse if our tampering didn't go as planned...
The "hiding in a hole" idea seems like the best option for now.

philw1776 said at January 24, 2013 10:04 AM:

Hide in holes. Save what, thousands, tens of thousands at most.
Or become a spacefaring society capable of roid mitigation and save humankind with the best yet added bonus of preserving the biosphere.

Lono said at January 24, 2013 11:51 AM:

Is on my list of to do things for my think tank. Of course we will need a high female-to-male ratio to avoid falling victim to an unacceptable mineshaft gap!

(you only think I am joking)

I heard recently that one of the Scientologist's infamous bunkers was recently outed on Google maps.


I wonder how effective it would be in such an event? Perhaps my group should consider just re-purposing it should tshtf.

Randall Parker said at January 24, 2013 9:14 PM:


For the cost of sending a small number of people to Mars for a visit we could build underground shelters that would save millions in event of a VEI-8 volcanic eruption or a large asteroid strike. Space migration is still a distant prospect.


We need to build lots of underground complexes so that in event of an asteroid strike the Scientologists won't be the only ones who survive.

I want some cost estimates for large shelters built to protect people from each of several scenarios. Air supply and power seem the biggest issues. It is easy and pretty cheap to store enough food to keep a person alive for a couple of years. So food is not the main cost driver.

philw1776 said at January 25, 2013 6:40 AM:

Why am I getting flashbacks to the late 50s with the Cold War shelter craze?

Lono said at January 25, 2013 9:21 AM:


I agree with you - however I don't see it likely happening on the scale it should. My group is working on creating systems that consistently generate revenue and linking them long term to specific pro-social projects. I think something along these lines is probably the only way to successfully get such an undertaking underway - short of having a specific wealthy benefactor.

I must admit I am mostly interested in saving those with above average IQ's and above average levels of empathy - I do not see a compelling reason to invite in a normal distribution of wild type Humans when we have the opportunity to be a little more selective.

Phillep Harding said at January 25, 2013 4:01 PM:

Okay, are you thinking of a survivalist commune? Be sure you look into how to operate volunteer based organizations, and note how most usually end up relying on about a dozen people, who are subject to burnout.

(BTW, don't forget that someone has to mop the floor and take out the trash. A bunch of primadonnas are not going to survive for long.)

Abelard Lindsey said at January 25, 2013 6:12 PM:

Greg Bear is into anything that will push us into space. The "rogue" asteroid scare is just an example of this.

The problem with space is that no one has yet to come up with an effective business idea and NASA has not done anything to help in this.

nanotech said at January 26, 2013 8:13 AM:

philw1776, Swiss have lots of bunkers. Maybe they will survive en masse. Not just thousands of people.

Paul Rain said at February 22, 2013 2:47 PM:

Eh.. the 'problem' with space is that too much money is being wasted on 'social' projects that for demographic reasons will never 'take off'. End them, and the world might have a chance.

I don't agree much with SBPDL-guy, but "we could have been on Mars, but" is a truth of the 21st century.

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2013 12:16 PM:

Paul Rain,

What would be the point of living on Mars? The cost per person to get there is probably in the hundreds of millions if not billions. The living standard will be incredibly low due to lack of atmosphere, little water, lack of trees and fossil fuels, lack of fish in oceans, lack of very large scale specialization of labor, and other factors.

I am going to do a post on this very point. A Mars colony seems impractical at our current level of technological development.

Sam O'neal said at July 3, 2013 6:13 AM:

This one might be a good choice for changing it's orbit. Putting it into L5 or a Lunar. An ION thruster over years would probably work. Would also be a good choice for a manned visit in 2029. Asteroids like this and smaller are almost impossible to find until they get real close to us. It's not uncommon to 'just' find a small asteroid between us and the Moon with no warning.

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