The dark side of DART
I am deeply intrigued by the possibilities of NASA’s DART mission, which recently crashed a 1,300-pound probe into an asteroid to try to make it change course.
Wow, right? Are we really that far along with our space technologies now that we can divert potential killer asteroids already?
Never mind the obvious implications. Tons of books and the movies “Armageddon,” “Sudden Impact,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “Asteroid” have worn out stop-the-end-of the-world heroism or cowardice. There’s not much crime suspense in that anyway.
But what can we writers be inspired by from the DART experiment?
- It doesn’t take much impact to divert an asteroid enough when the course is changed tens of millions of miles away. Just good aim. Tap. The thing is going a tiny bit different direction. Just enough.
- It takes a long time to get there. This mission launched 10 months before impact.
- NASA’s DART got there on a private rocket bought from a multibillionaire space geek with his own rockets and a reputation for being a little crazy. I know. There are several who fit that description. Elon Musk in this case, if you didn’t know.
So there is your plot trigger. If good guys can change the course of an asteroid so that it misses Earth, a bad guy—let’s say a crazy multibillionaire space geek with his own rockets (there are several)—can change the course of an asteroid so it targets Earth.
This isn’t the first time that a tremendous breakthrough in technology intended to save the world also unleashes the opposite, the potential to jeopardize the world. With great power comes great risk.
Potential motives and complications are available by the bushel. Come up with good characters and a half-decent plot, it writes itself.
In his great nonfiction book, PALE BLUE DOT, Carl Sagan speculated about this. The flip side of being able to divert an asteroid from hitting us means that it’s also possible to make one intentionally hit us.
As usual, Sagan was right. And think about it: more than just about any other existing technology, diversion of an asteroid has the potential to completely end the world.