Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2014 (850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WASHINGTON -- In gratitude for not having been pulverized to extinction by Asteroid 2000-EM26 two weeks ago (it missed us by a whisker, only 3.4 million kilometres), the people of planet Earth have been requested to join the mailing list of another mini-planet named for the Egyptian heron-god Bennu.
"We'll put your name aboard a spacecraft that will travel to an asteroid and back, making you an active participant in humankind's exploration of the solar system. How cool does that sound?" throbbed Bill Nye the Science Guy in an email.
Nye is the lab-coated television edu-tainer whose 22 years of broadcasting have illuminated the American public so effectively that, in a survey taken in February by the National Science Foundation, only 26 per cent now believe the sun revolves around the Earth.
"We're thrilled to be able to share the OSIRIS-REx adventure with people across the Earth, to Bennu and back," enthused a University of Arizona astronomer named Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of a robotic mission that is intended to tunnel into the soil of Bennu and ferry a spoonful back to Earth for analysis in the year 2023.
I called Lauretta in Tucson and he told me more than 250,000 people already have etched their names, free of charge, on the microchip that OSIRIS-REx will carry. Bennu, by the way, was named in a contest by a nine-year-old North Carolina boy in honour of a deity known -- like the current U.S. president -- as "He Who Came Into Being By Himself."
Of course, it was the same Barack Obama who, in April 2010, revealed his own vision of manned space travel by saying, "We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history."
"We're working towards at least a million names; that's what Curiosity had," Lauretta said. Curiosity is the rover currently racing around Mars at the speed of about half an inch a year.
"Curiosity went to a major planet and you're going to a minor planet," I noted.
"Hey, hey, hey," Dante Lauretta clucked. "Don't get personal."
Just as I was going online to send my daughter's name to Bennu -- she will be 18 in 2023 and there are no college boys in the asteroid belt -- I received another email, this one from The Conservative Caucus in Warrenton, Virginia.
"Should OBAMA be IMPEACHED?" it screamed.
It was a totally unbiased survey bulk-mailed to five million "pro-freedom, pro-Constitution" voters, designed to convince a reluctant Congress to evict the 44th president and his wife, daughters and mother-in-law, pronto. To wit:
QUESTION 5: Do you think Obama is administratively manipulating the Constitution and abusing presidential power to force his radical agenda to fundamentally transform America?
QUESTION 15: Given what you have seen so far from President Obama, what do you think is his true political ideology?
-- Mostly Conservative
-- Mostly Liberal
-- Very Liberal
-- Not Sure
I dialed Virginia and reached Charles Orndorff, administrative vice-chairman of the Caucus. He reported that about 125,000 people have participated in the survey so far, which means Americans are twice as willing to courier their names to a pipsqueak chunk of space-gravel than they are to get involved in the salvation of their own democracy.
"We tried something like this in 2011, but at that point people seemed to think, 'Oh, he's not going to get re-elected in 2012 anyway, so why bother?' " Orndorff told me. "But now, the only way to get him out of the White House before 2017 is for him to be impeached."
"What are the chances?" I wondered.
"A couple of Congressmen have said that they would vote for impeachment," Orndorff replied. "But the leadership has shown NO interest at all."
"What if the House impeached Obama and the Senate convicted him?" I mused. "What would you do with him after that?"
"Well, theoretically, he could be put on trial. But as a practical matter, it is likely that very few of the attorneys he personally appointed himself would want to prosecute him."
I told the administrative vice-chairman about the OSIRIS-REx mission and Obama's vow in 2010 to ship real, live Americans out that way.
"Have you considered combining the two initiatives and sending Barack Obama himself to Asteroid Bennu?" I suggested.
"Oh boy," the conservative replied.
Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.