Drama in Flagstaff: Day 2 of the Planetary Defense Conference

pdc_logoDay 2 of the Planetary Defense Conference is in the books and, although the day lacked the excitement of an unexpected appearance of NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, it had more than its fair share of drama.

Rusty get smacked down. During a presentation on human expeditions to near-Earth asteroids, NASA official Paul Abell went through a whole list of precursor missions required before sending astronauts to one.

During the Q&A, Apollo 9 veteran Rusty Schweickart suggested that if NASA needed to do all that first, it might as well stay home. Abell responded that Schweickart should go back and review all the lunar precursor missions done before the Apollo moon landings. Rusty walked away from the microphone as the audience went, “Ooohhh!”

The Twitterverse Starts a Panic. Twitter was briefly abuzz with reports of a newly announced that a newly discovered asteroid, 2013PDCE, posed a potential threat to Earth on Nov. 22, 2023. If only!

What actually happened was the announcement of the Mitigation Response and Disaster Management Exercise set to close out the conference on Friday. The PDCE stands for “Planetary Defense Conference Exercise.” (That should have clued in people, but the motto of the Twitterverse is, “Tweet first, hope for the best.”)

I take some credit in tamping down what could have been a global panic by directly responding to the erroneous Tweets, although the non-journalist side of me wishes I had stayed quiet and simply watched how far this thing would have propagated. That would have been a lot more fun.

Bruce Willis Finally Arrives in Arizona. No, not the Bruce Willis, but a Bruce Willis. Brent Barbee claimed that role by boldly proclaiming that he had no interest whatsoever in moving an asteroid, he merely wanted to blow it to smithereens. He was a welcome relief in an otherwise dry conference in which scientists managed to make saving the world seem as exciting as watching old people watch paint dry.

Brent Barbee is Bruce Willis in Armageddon. (Via @NASA360)
Brent Barbee is Bruce Willis in Armageddon. (Via @NASA360)

Grump Old (and Middle Aged) Men. The day ended with a short panel discussion involving a half dozen of the leading figures in this field. It was a slightly grumpy affair, with members of the group expressing various disappointments with the pace of progress, insufficient funding and so on. The consensus was more action, less talk.

It wasn’t clear whether this annoyance was exacerbated by being pulled into a panel at the end of a long day, the small number of people left in the room, or the exhaustion of spending an entire day giving and listening to presentations at Flagstaff’s high altitude (elevation: 6,910 feet). Whatever the case, the panel certainly didn’t end the day on a high note, which is something to keep in mind for next time.