China’s asteroid odyssey ignored by popular western media
China probe flies past asteroid that could destroy Earth as we know it
It is now four days since China’s Chang’e-2 space probe took a very close and incredibly fast look at Toutatis, a potentially hazardous earth crossing asteroid in its latest exploit which it preceded with a lunar mapping mission and then a flight to the L2 Lagrangian point, a place where the earth-moon system creates a gravitational slow zone in space.
Yet there have been very few stories in the general western media, although the remarkable accomplishments of the mission have been fulsomely reported in the space media, such as Space Daily.
The general media indifference is similar to that accorded to Japan’s Hyabusa probe that rendevoused with asteroid Itokawa in 2005 which it touched at least once, collecting grains of material from its surface which were eventually recovered after it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere above the Woomera Rocket Range in 2010.
Almost every technical malfunction possible befell Hyabusa, but its robust fail safe design and tenacious programing and fuel conservation by the Japanese space agency pulled off the most detailed visit yet to the surface of an asteroid, as well as proving that low energy transfer orbits could be made to work with existing technology.
The not-invented-or-launched-here syndrome is rather sad. The Chang’e and Hyabusa projects were highly original in their planning, driven by a need to lever results out of very tiny budgets.
Toutatis follows an orbit that stretches from just inside Earth’s to the gap between Mars and Jupiter, where most of the known asteroids in the inner solar system are located. As a very large earth-crossing object, with a four year orbit that on occasions comes close to this planet, Toutatis is classified as a low risk potentially hazardous object. On present calculations, there is zero chance of Toutatis and Earth colliding for the next 600 years, but should they ever collide, the impact would be in the same destructive category as that which most of science believes is the prime reason why the dinosaurs became extinct, after which our species was able to evolve and proliferate on a much changed planet Earth.