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Collins: Rocks in space

  • (MIKE SMITH / Las Vegas Sun)

So, which would you rather do: Capture an asteroid or go back to the moon? This is one of the many interesting issues facing Congress that we probably will not have time to debate once Congress actually comes back next month. Then it'll be nothing but Obamacare and government shutdowns and the occasional discussion about whether Sen. Ted Cruz has managed to dispose of his recently discovered dual Canadian citizenship.

Which I am personally looking forward to a lot. But today let's consider the American space program.

Space exploration is one of the extremely few areas in which there is a lot of bipartisan agreement in Washington. For instance, both parties believe that the United States should be trying to get to Mars. Eventually. Nobody thinks this will happen anytime soon — partly because the technology is so challenging and partly because Congress keeps cutting the space budget.

So far, NASA has not shown any interest in the tactic being used by a Dutch company that hopes to establish a Martian colony in about 10 years, with money that would come in part from producing a reality series, somewhere along the lines of “Big Brother” or perhaps “Real Housewives of the Red Planet.”

The third point of wide bipartisan agreement is that nobody wants their constituents to be clobbered by an asteroid. Really, this is a priority. The Obama administration is currently promoting an “asteroid grand challenge,” in which we're invited “to find all asteroid threats to human populations” and figure out what to do about them.

And — this is good news, people — we've already pinpointed about 95 percent of all the rocks in the solar system that are of planet-mashing size.

I know that you are now instantly focusing on the remaining 5 percent, as well as the multitudinous smaller fellows that are capable of taking out Massachusetts or Paris — or your local shopping center. Everybody is in favor of finding them too, particularly since one grazed Russia earlier this year, causing the House Science Committee to hold a special Threats From Space meeting.

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