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Category — Threats From Space

Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction

Jason G. Matheny

Space Station

Excerpted from Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction,
Risk Analysis, Vol. 27, No. 5, 2007

In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future human lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.

It is possible for humanity (or its descendents) to survive a million years or more, but we could succumb to extinction as soon as this century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. President Kennedy estimated the probability of a nuclear holocaust as “somewhere between one out of three and even.” John von Neumann, as Chairman of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, predicted that it was “absolutely certain that there would be a nuclear war; and that everyone would die in it.”

More recent predictions of human extinction are little more optimistic. In their catalogs of extinction risks, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees (2003), gives humanity 50-50 odds on surviving the 21st century; philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that it would be “misguided” to assume that the probability of extinction is less than 25%; and philosopher John Leslie (1996) assigns a 30% probability to extinction during the nex tfive centuries. The “Stern Review ”for the U.K. Treasury (2006) assumes that the probability of human extinction during the next century is 10%. And some explanations of the “Fermi Paradox” imply a high probability (close to 100%) of extinction among technological civilizations.

Estimating the probabilities of unprecedented events is subjective, so we should treat these numbers skeptically. Still, even if the probability of extinction is several orders lower, because the stakes are high, it could be wise to invest in extinction countermeasures. [Read more →]

April 7, 2013   No Comments

Russian Federation Council Calls For International Anti-Asteroid Program

From New release issued March 13, 2013 


The Russian Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, held a special meeting on March 12 on the subject of the defense of earth from space objects. The special session centered on a “round-table” discussion involving three ministries of the Russian government, two of whose ministers participated personally, along with the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos; the head of the Energiya state rocket-booster company; and other top experts including three specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, according to a Russian-language wire from the government news agency RIA-Novosti.

The following is an initial report:

Boris Shustov, Director of the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), said that to be able to defend ourselves from dangerous cosmic objects, we need a combination of earth- and space-based sensors. Special telescopes are needed, like one which exists in Russia’s Baikal region. We also need wide-angle telescopes, which Russia doesn’t have yet, but should build, combined with space-based systems.

Viktor Lopota, president of Russia’s (state-owned) Energiya rocket corporation, which builds the worlds biggest currently-operating launch vehicle, said that super-heavy launch vehicles will be required for the defense against meteors. He said the US is planning to have one with a capacity of 70 tons by 2017, and a successor with 130 tons capacity. (Certainly not under Obama — ed.) Russia should produce such larger rockets as well. [Read more →]

March 24, 2013   No Comments