My Exclusive Interview with Space Pioneer Ed Lu

1 | By Michael A. Robinson

To Ed Lu, the threat from killer asteroids is evident.

It’s like I told you Tuesday: Worst-case scenario, a large rock traveling at high speeds could wipe out most of the life on our planet. That remains a remote chance. But this fact is clear: Even a small space rock could cause widespread damage. It could kill thousands, or perhaps millions, if it were to strike a heavily populated urban area.

That’s why Lu figured the world’s governments would have to come together to protect Earth.

Then again, he is a former NASA astronaut. So he’s used to seeing government agencies invest billions in space missions of all kinds.

In 2001, Ed Lu and several colleagues formed the B612 Foundation. The non-profit is dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroids and helping to spur interest in mapping the most threatening of these killer space rocks. The goal is to locate most of the ones that could devastate the human race and make plans to deflect them off course.

Given that the technology to do so already exists, it sounded like a no-brainer that the world’s political leaders to climb on board.

But over time, it became clear that budget-strapped governments had no stomach for the huge project. That left him two choices – quit the field outright…

Or start thinking like an entrepreneur.

As Lu explained in a wide-ranging chat with me this week, it was then that he decided to take matters into its own hands.

As he sees it, saving planet Earth is so important, he doesn’t mind spearheading the hundreds of millions dollars in fundraising it will take to launch the Sentinel Space Telescope.

By 2018, Lu’s group plans to place the infrared (IR) device into orbit around the Sun, near Venus. Once there, Sentinel will deploy its 20-inch mirror to map the swarms of large asteroids that ring the inner solar system. The builders of this deep-space telescope estimate that it will find some 500,000 near-Earth asteroids in its five-and-a-half years of operation.

In my letter to you on Tuesday, I explained the technical aspect of the mission. I also told you about the incredible Gravity Tractor Lu invented to deflect asteroids away from Earth.

Today, I want to share Lu’s own observations about how this program could save the human race from annihilation.

And in a moment, I’ll tell you how you can get involved, too.

But first, here’s the thing. I’ve talked with hundreds of senior leaders in many fields in the last 30 years, and I found Lu’s comments fascinating. So, as much as possible, I want you to get much of the story directly from him. Take a look…

“I think we’re trying to do something big in a very different way,” said Lu, a veteran of three NASA space flights. “And you know, I guess that’s the definition of radical change.

“I mean, we’re talking about changing the solar system, and that’s pretty cool. That’s very science-fiction-y but here we are. That’s the age we live in.

“Someday there is going to be an asteroid with our name on it, right? Every couple of hundred years, something hits anyhow. I don’t know when the next one is. But, if we do our job right, this planet, the third planet from the sun, should never be hit by a large asteroid again from this day forward.

“And that’s because humans on this planet will actually nudge the asteroids as needed to keep that from happening. That’s pretty cool because this planet has been subject to these impacts for the last four-and-one-half billion years. It’s just been part of life here.

“Life occasionally gets wiped out. These things have just happened, right? Well, that shouldn’t happen anymore.”

To be sure, Lu credits NASA with the Spaceguard Survey in which the agency located the very largest asteroids that could hit Earth. Those are the ones bigger than about two-thirds of a mile in diameter… the ones that, if they struck the planet, little would survive.

But the more Lu thought about it, the more he realized that smaller space rocks could still wreak havoc around the globe.

“What if it’s an asteroid that’s only like three-fourths that size, where it only sends us back to the Stone Age?” he asked. “Or, that it only collapses the world’s economy for 300 years? We won’t even (be able to) live for that.

“To me, that seemed like a giant gaping hole. Something that maybe only kills 80% of people on earth you didn’t care about seems nuts. That’s going to wipe out civilization worldwide, and the reason is because it will take growing seasons out worldwide for a few years.

“You know how much food we have stockpiled on Earth? A couple of months. If you lose growing seasons worldwide for a few years, that’s it. You know, there’s a mass die off. There’s not enough food to feed the world for a few years, period. End of story.”

Now, after going public with B612’s Sentinel plans last week, Lu says he’s trying to raise “a few hundred million dollars.” He told me the figure may sound big but it’s in line with donations for other large public telescopes, like the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Unlike giving money toward building the wing of an art museum or symphony hall, donors know they will have little – if any – chance to see or use the large telescopes they help fund. So, he doesn’t see any real challenge in lining up donors to put Sentinel in orbit.

B612 plans to target large corporations and wealthy individuals. But it will gladly accept small donations.

“The alumni of Stanford (University) just finished a fundraising campaign of $6 billion. That totally dwarfs what we are trying to do. If we can build a community of a million or so supporters worldwide, we can do this.

“We want people to have that feeling that humans can actually do some of these amazing things, that they can get involved. You can be a part owner of this thing, essentially.”

Lu’s comments clearly underscore we are living in the Era of Radical Change. If he’d made these statements just a decade ago, some might have wondered if he’d spent a bit too much time in a space capsule. Today, this kind of talk is entering the mainstream. We see a barrage of breakthroughs almost every day now – breakthroughs that are changing the world around us faster than we can fully understand.

And leaders like Lu show that high-tech can save America and the world – at the very least, save it from the hazards posed by asteroids.

From an investment standpoint, there is no way to measure the return on any money you might donate to B612 through its website.

But consider this: You’ll be an important part of the New Space Race.

And who knows… you just might help save the world while you’re at it.


One Response to My Exclusive Interview with Space Pioneer Ed Lu

  1. Anonymole says:

    So they launch the Sentinel by 2018. Let’s say on the first day on the job it discovers a 400,000 ton rock headed our way. It’s predicted to land smack in the middle of the Mediterranean. Then what? A mad scramble with ancient technology is what.

    No, the problem is not detecting the things, the problem is our current launch technology. Some of these rocks are detected with only a few weeks of warning before they either slip quietly by, or impact some unlucky spot on the planet. What we need is a new LEO (low earth orbit) type launch technology to get our avoidance vehicles off the planet and out where they can do some good.

    Rockets, a 700+ year old technology, “light the fuse and run like hell” technology, is still all we have to get stuff into space. That’s not going to work to get the job done when the unavoidable eventually occurs.

    What Lu needs to add to his list of projects is a new launch technology. Startram, maglev, scramjet, railgun stuff that needs to be perfected and working – right now!

    To effectively combat an incoming asteroid we will need mass, lots of mass, launched from the surface, and directed at the next Apophis. Either in a singular or as a concerted team multiple payloads would need to be launched and then directed at the asteroid to ensure success. We can’t get such mass up into LEO without a new launch tech.

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