Scientists and emergency managers participating in a NASA-run war game simulation of a potential asteroid impact this week set out to save someplace called Denver, Colorado, but ended up destroying New York City instead.
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During the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference, a NASA-run simulation of a potential asteroid impact event, participants launched a mission to defend the city of Denver, Colorado from an asteroid impact and in the process "inadvertently" destroyed New York City, losing the country's only real center of culture and distinction.
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The sad chain of events began with the "discovery" of an asteroid that was projected to have a 1% chance of striking the planet. As circumstances developed, participants launched a mission to deflect the 140-260 meter asteroid from hitting some place in the Western United States called Denver, which now had a 1 in 10 chance of being hit by the asteroid, resulting in a great deal of disturbance for many sheep and herds of cattle, several soccer practices at the extremities, and possibly a gathering of the local Elk Lodge.
The mission, sending several spaceships on a course to deflect the asteroid, instead broke the asteroid apart as anyone who had seen Deep Impact in one of these new-fangled spaces called a cinema could have predicted, which probably rules out much of the Pale west of the Hudson River. The consequence of the mission was a 60 meter wide chunk of asteroid deflected away from Denver and set on a collision course with New York City instead.
The participants of the simulation then honestly proposed evacuating New York City as the only way to save its residents as if this was an acceptable solution. Faced with the prospect of strip malls, Waffle Houses, and absense of mass transit, New Yorkers would have none of it. Unrecorded in the report of the conference was the heroic efforts of New Yorkers to build rockets of their own to deflect the asteroid towards New Jersey, where nothing of any importance exists.
Planetary Defense Conference Otherwise a Success of Sorts
Emergency managers got a lot out of their exercise last week, demonstrating the unique challenges of coordinating a response to what Rüdiger Jehn of the European Space Agency's Planetary Defence Office called the only preventable natural disaster.
Meanwhile, Leviticus Lewis of the Response Operations Division for FEMA believes that the simulation showed the real challenge in addressing a calamity such as an asteroid impact: "This exercise is valuable in that it continues the work currently in progress to identify key questions and issues for this low probability but high consequence scenario."
High consequence indeed.
Non-Disclaimer: The author is a life-long New Yorker who will meet any asteroid, fictional or actual, on a rooftop with a cocktail in his hand before evacuating to New Jersey.