One Small Step
William "Ted" Hartwell
December 2, 2012
My earliest memory is that of my mother waking me up from a nap to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the lunar surface, and telling me how important it was to remember the moment. I was not quite four years old. From that time forward space held a special fascination for me, and watching the night sky became a favorite past time of mine as I grew older. I like to believe that this event was in large part responsible for my interest in science. While astronomy was one of the areas of science that I considered majoring in in college, I opted for another love of mine, archaeology. One of the most interesting and fun contributions I have ever had the opportunity to make in my field involved participation in a 2004 workshop in the Canary Islands sponsored by the International Council of Science Unions. The workshop, "Comet/Asteroid Impacts and Human Society" involved scientists from non-traditional fields discussing the question of how a major impact of one of these celestial objects could affect human societies. I had tremendous fun providing a brief historical view of celestial phenomena in archaeology and popular culture, and relating how these phenomena have loomed large in shaping human culture, and continue to have significant meaning today. One of the major recommendations to come out of the workshop, other than the obvious one of funding surveys to increase our knowledge of the sub-kilometer sized population of near-Earth objects that are out there, was a recommendation to increase the coverage of the Earth's tsunami monitoring network. Only three weeks after this discussion, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami occurred, killing nearly a quarter million people. This event truly brought home with a vengeance the need to plan for low-risk/high consequence events such as the impact of a sizable near-Earth object, the future occurrence of which is a certainty without a concerted effort to identify the threat with enough lead-time to alter the course of such objects.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.