Friday, June 02, 2006

A Fistful of Sand
Japan's asteroid mission scientists have a briefing for you. In part: Previously studied asteroids appeared to be lumps of solid rock, but Itokawa is made up of loosely packed bits of sand and boulders, they said. Their findings could have implications for deflecting asteroids that might pass too close to Earth in the future. The big implication that comes to mind is that an attempt to attach a rocket or a mass driver to such an asteroid might have no solid ground on which to attach. A strong rocket might just burrow through a loose collection of sand grains and boulders. Maybe there would be a way to utilize static electricity to dissipate a body heading our way. A physicist could figure it out. Here's my thinking: forget the exclusive push to Mars. We should be seriously thinking about sending teams of astronauts to a few of the near-earth asteroids to check these things out. Which ones are solid rock? Which ones are icy volatiles? How can human beings handle these sandpiles?

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