MARTY RUSSELL; ‘Roid wranglin’: Not just for athletes anymore

By Marty Russell

I was outside watching the moon the other night because we’re getting to that point in the year when night sky watching becomes prohibitive unless you want to risk West Nile virus, Lyme disease, stepping on a snake or being attacked by the most feared creatures in all of God’s creation – chiggers.
The crescent moon was a nice view through the telescope with orange Jupiter shining nearby. It’s a familiar scene to us sky-watchers, one I’ve seen many, many times but the view could soon be changing. That’s because there are plans afoot – with real money to back them up – to lasso one of the asteroids that inhabit that space between the moon, Mars and Jupiter and bring it back to Earth and place it into an orbit around the moon.
Last week NASA announced $105 million in its proposed 2014 budget would be used to kick-start an asteroid utilization program.
At least two private firms have already begun work on plans to mine asteroids for minerals.
NASA’s proposed plan reminded me of that line from the movie “Jaws” when Quint, the shark fisherman, remarks that “those taxidermy boys are gonna have a heart attack when they see what I brung them.”
I imagine you could say the same thing about the folks who make Hefty trash bags. That’s because NASA’s plan calls for bagging – literally – a 500-ton, 35-foot-wide asteroid and dragging it back to be placed into an orbit around the moon. That’s going to have to be one heck of a bag. No word on whether it’ll have drawstrings and be scented but let’s hope it’s at least a double-ply.
Once the so-called ’roid-wranglin’ unmanned spacecraft bag one and bring it back and place it in orbit around the moon, astronauts would be sent to study and mine the object, perhaps as early as 2021.
The entire scenario raises a lot of questions. First, what do you call a moon in orbit around a moon? Second, what impact will the additional mass around the moon have on tides, lunatics like those who bomb marathons and lycanthropes?
What if the bag rips on the way back, as mine often do, usually when I’m transporting used cat litter to the trash can? As bad as a used cat litter spill can be, imagine an escaped asteroid headed toward Earth.
And, finally, will we have to change the title of the song to, “Blue Moons?”
I can understand the logic. It’s easier to send unmanned spacecraft out and bring the rocks back to Earth than it is to send astronauts out to the asteroid belt to mine them.
And, if the plan is successful and it turns out asteroids do contain valuable minerals, it could be repeated over and over until, like the rocks that make up the rings around Saturn, we wind up with a ring around the moon.
That would certainly change the familiar nighttime view.
MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at marty.russell56@gmail.com.