Uh-oh. Congress wants to stick its nose into the space rock/meteor/comet-tracking business, which means that we Earthlings could be in for an even rougher jolt than Jupiter endured last month.
Alerted by the highly publicized assault on the Jovian surface (if, indeed, "surface" is the proper terminology for whatever's on the outside of a gaseous space blob) by the high-velocity fragments of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet, several members of Congress have been unable to resist the urge to rear back and pass some sort of preventive legislation, lest their constituents get the idea they aren't sufficiently concerned about the possibility that Earth could suffer a similar fate some day.Demonstrating his deep concern, U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Texas, said, "If a comet or asteroid the size of the one we have been watching hit Jupiter . . . were to hit the Earth, it would cause a major, global catastrophe."
To prevent such a calamity from befalling us, Hall has called for a 10-year federal program to identify and catalog "all comets and asteroids that are greater than one kilometer in diameter" and that are on courses that intersect the orbit of Earth.
Despite assurances that, with help of the Defense Department through some of its "super-secret satellites," the whole job could be pulled off for a mere $50 million, I fear that Hall's amendment would eventually lead to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Identifying and Cataloging Comets and Other Space Junk (the FBI&CCOSJ), which, as anyone reasonably familiar with the growth pattern of governmental programs is aware, could put almost as big a dent in the federal budget as a runaway comet could put in the Earth's crust.
But let's try to look on the bright side. Such a bureau not only could reduce unemployment by keeping an entire cadre of sky watchers on the federal payroll for at least a decade but it also could, if all those sky watchers can stay awake, issue a TIMELY warning should a bit of space debris suddenly veer in our direction.
The word "timely" is emphasized in the preceding paragraph because of an incident that could have produced a rather rum show for our home planet, catastrophe-wise, about five years ago.
It seems that, on March 23, 1989, a fairly large asteroid - capable of killing any dinosaurs that might have been missed 65 million years ago - avoided colliding with Earth by only six hours.
And astronomers, who have little to do all day except peer through their telescopes, sip tea and tell Jeane Dixon jokes, DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IT WAS THERE UNTIL IT HAD PASSED!
Actually, there might be a way for us to keep a pretty close tab on potentially threatening comets, meteors, etc., without the inevitable expense attached to massive federal programs.
A fascinating story, written by one Tanya Barrientos of Knight-Ridder Newspapers and published a few days ago, described the adventures of some of your average, everyday Americans who have been abducted - some with monotonous regularity - by extraterrestrial beings and transported aboard their spaceships, where various medical experiments are performed on their persons.
I propose some sort of "quid pro quo" arrangement in this regard.
I don't think it's being presumptuous if these alien beings are going to continue to insist on whisking helpless Earthlings aboard their vessels and probing about in their navels and various other body parts, to ask them to keep a sharp eye (or whatever they use to see things with) on the heavens during their travels and give us ample warning if we are in danger of colliding with something.
And you know what they say: If you save $50 mil here and $50 mil there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.