As you may recall from some previous articles I’ve written about gaming, I’m a big fan of video games. As you might know from reading my novel Protostar: Memoirs Of The Messenger, I’m also invested heavily in dreaming about the stars. To complete this repetitive trend, as you might remember from an article I wrote about Kerbal Space Program (and it’s reigning demi-god, Scott Manley), I happen to appreciate our reality when it comes to space exploration, especially when it’s explained through the context of little green men flying very human-designed rocket-ships.
Stay with me, here, there’s a point coming that’s connected to this article’s title!
In my ode to Scott Manley, I linked you, dear reader, to a video where Manley plays Kerbal with a gentleman named Ed Lu. Ed Lu is an actual astronaut, the kind that fly around in the real rockets that are mimicked in Kerbal Space Program. His days as a Space Shuttle pilot go so far beyond anything I’ve experienced outside of a dream, but his current efforts – promoted during his previous video with Manley – are focused on something called the B612 Foundation. And this, dear reader, is where a subheading swoops in to make this article more search-able, as well as to create the obvious segue…
What Is The B612 Foundation?
I’m glad you asked!
The B612 Foundation is a not-for-profit organization co-founded by Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, of Apollo 9 fame. Following a fortuitous meeting in which Ed Lu was met with the stunning proposal of, “why don’t you do it?,” the two started an organization dedicated to a rather noble goal: Preventing, or at least mitigating the possibility of an asteroid or meteorite hitting a certain planet we all live on, called Earth. I spoke via Twitter with B612 earlier today about something I’ll get into briefly, but they recommended I watch a video they produced. I hope I’m not doing them an injustice by reposting it here (assuming Vimeo’s embed features work), but I think they explain it better than I could.
I think the point is obvious. I find myself amazed that I don’t have any articles, on any of the sites I’ve written for, about the Chelyabinsk Meteor mentioned in the B612 Impact Video, but I know I’ve talked about it with high school students and they were rather stunned at the video of the event. It’s reminiscent of another (presumed) meteor impact, the Tunguska Event, which occurred in 1908 and had the estimated force of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. I guess Russia is both lucky and unlucky; they’re unfortunate enough to get all of the really big meteors in their airspace, but their two close calls both appear to have ended with air-bursts and minimal damage. Still, what about the smaller ones?
Well, part of the title of this article implied a strange connection of events between Scott Manley’s Kerbal Space Program videos, meteors, and the B612 Foundation. Let’s go to the goodies!
“Interstellar Quest” Rocks The Earth?
Scott Manley’s latest KSP video series is called “Interstellar Quest,” and it is something I look forward to on a daily basis. Let’s be real for a second; my father isn’t in great health and my grandmother is 90, and I am already prone to bouts of depression. My girlfriend and friends in general have been great to me, as has my day job, but one of the most satisfying forms of entertainment has been the twenty-minute-long videos put together by this true storytelling and gaming genius. While I can call him out on continuing to drag the Sean Kerman Secrets story-line along, I genuinely look forward to every Interstellar release I see.
A month or so ago, Kerbal Space Program updated to Version .23.5. KSP did this to introduce a NASA-sponsored feature into the game; asteroids. Players can detect asteroids floating around the Kerbal homeworld of Kerbin, and can of course send rockets to interact with, move, and even design ridiculous toys out of these space-rocks! From an educational standpoint (and my Masters’ degree in education agrees!), this is the definition of “immersion,” or bathing students in a subject. Build a rocket-ship, fly out to an asteroid, and manipulate it? These are projects NASA – and some billionaires – really believe will be profit-generating prospects!
But as to its relevance to “Interstellar Quest,” in his latest (and 60th!) episode, Manley deploys a version of the very tool that the B612 Foundation wants to develop in real life: The Sentinel, a highly complicated project that breaks down to being a crowd-funded, orbiting camera in space dedicated solely to finding asteroids that might hit Earth. Pretty cool, huh?
Here’s Episode 60 of my Scottish Science Idol’s incredible series, wherein he further explains how the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel will work (both in-game and in-reality).
By the end of his video, Manley has discovered that an asteroid is about ten days out from striking the planet Kerbin! Oh no! That’s, like, the stand in for planet Earth! Well, it was released on May 3rd, so in the game world they have 10 in-game days, but even if they were real days we’d still have, what, eight? And, anyway, it’s a game, right? There’s no way that a stellar body could somehow hit us because of Scott’s video, right? Surely he was just promoting the B612 Foundation because it had just released it’s Impact Video on April 20th…Which, in retrospect, is kind of cruel; talking about city-killer asteroids on 420 is just mean, man, and might have harshed one’s mellow, had one indulged in such things…
What was I saying? Right. Manley was talking about B612 because B612 was back in the news, and surely he planned for his Kerbals to deal with this threat from space in his next episode of Interstellar Quest…
…And Then A Real Meteor Hit Canada!
Yesterday, as I ate dinner with my girlfriend and her mother (my first dinner-with-the-mom, and it went well!), this news came across my eyes, courtesy of CTV News: “Meteor Strike In Ontario? Flash Of Blue Light, Loud Boom Reported On Social Media.” Immediately, the fiction writer in me began to churn out story-lines: Manley had used digital magic to summon this thing to strike Canada because, well, why not!?
Alright, so this is a complete-and-total coincidence. The incident, which was later confirmed as a real event by Astronomy Professor Peter Brown, of the University of Western Ontario, arrived a day before Earth passed into the tail of Halley’s Comet, causing an easily-predicted-in-advance meteor shower called Eta Aquarid. It was a minor impact, and while I’m sure it scared people witless, no serious damage seems to have been done. It was solely a matter of convenient timing: We fans of Scott Manley and the B612 Foundation were looking forward to meteor stories and we got one in real life! Our eyes were on a game’s representation of a asteroid-discovery situation, eliciting laughter at the face of Edlu Kerman falling victim to a paralysis bug, all as the real source for our fear emerged and reminded us just how real it is.
We knew that the Eta Aquarid meteor shower was happening, and knew it would be relatively mild; we did not know it was going to produce a direct hit, with fragments found in some person’s back yard! It reminds us that we did not know Chelyabinsk was on its way to get us. Other news was even more upsetting: As reported by Liz Kilmas of The Blaze, a 25-foot, bus-sized asteroid called 2014 HL129 came within 186,000 of hitting Earth – closer to us than our moon is! But the scariest part? It was only discovered three days before it was due to pass so close. If the asteroid was on just a slightly different trajectory, it could have crashed right into us, doing who-knows-how-much damage. Probably not terribly much, depending on its speed, impact site, and density. However, we would much rather it not break down to a stereotypical “wake-up call” moment for us to start actively defending our cities.
Contributing to the B612 Foundation Sentinel
I literally just donated $25 bucks to the Sentinel Project. It isn’t much, but I don’t have much right now. (If you buy my books, perhaps I’ll have more!) Everyone should step up and invest in this. Assuming it all works, it may well give us enough warning so that Scott Manley, Billy Bob Thorton, Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, and others can mount up and prevent an asteroid from hitting us. They can be led by Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, who have some real space-travel experience. Okay, so maybe SpaceX would end up picking the crew and handling the mission, and not the writers of a very bad space thriller! However, by the time it’s all said and done, I put my money where my mouth is.
You can follow my lead and pitch in at this link. Don’t forget, while you’re at it, to use our social networking buttons to “Share” and “Like” and “Tweet” this article.
Until then, if there’s news out of B612, Kerbal Space Program, Scott Manley, or just anything else cool in space, odds are you’ll see me write a (much shorter) article about it! Until then, friends, remember: We face dangerous times; no more dangerous than at any point in human history, perhaps, but certainly dangerous in that we lack the tools to glean knowledge of a world-ending asteroid headed our way, to say nothing of having a contingency plan ready to act.
That needs to change, and it’s our job to build the world we want!
Jesse Pohlman is an author from Freeport, New York. He writes science-fiction novels where asteroids are definitely discussed, especially in Protostar: Memoirs Of The Messenger, when Lahira Ocean, the chief navigator on the star-ship The George Washington helps her Captain make first contact with a new, dangerous species of alien. Jesse has produced other sci-fi novels that deal with real physical phenomenon in the hands of reluctant superheroes and villains in the novels Physics Incarnate and Physics Reincarnate, starring the Master of Physics Itself, Emmett Eisenberg.
Feel free to check this site out for more information and other interesting topics, like the educational value of Saturday-Morning Cartoons, a video-review of Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece Oryx and Crake, or how the Uintah School District in Utah took lunches from kids who “hadn’t paid for them” and threw the food out, instead.
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