Salary Survey Extra: NASA wants to divert a deep impact from causing armageddon
Posted on
April 13, 2023

Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Did NASA just save the planet from a deadly asteroid impact?

This island Earth has taken a lot of shots from the heavens above across the brief 4.5 billion years of its existence. It's been credibly theorized that a massive asteroid colliding with our home planet doomed the dinosaurs to extinction roughly 66 million years ago.

Meteor Crater near Winslow, Ariz., is believed to have been formed 50,000 years ago by the impact of a chunk of space rock 165 feet across. The so-called "Tunguska event" that flattened 80 million trees across 803 square miles of forest in Siberia in 1908 is believed to have been caused by an asteroid exploding immediately prior to impact.

In 1998, Earth was jeopardized by two incoming heavenly hunks at the same time, albeit only in theaters: director Michael Bay's Armageddon threatened planetary extinction with a "Texas-sized" asteroid, while President Morgan Freeman of Deep Impact schemed how to deflect a comet on a deadly celestial collision course.

Teams of astronauts in both films attempt to divert and/or destroy the stony space invaders using rocket-borne explosives, and the track record is pretty good. Earth escapes with nary a scratch in Armageddon (apart from some scene-setting mini-meteor strikes at the beginning of the movie), while in Deep Impact there's at least some cause for optimism about the future when the astronauts break the incoming comet in two and then manage to explode the bigger piece.

(The smaller fragment smacks the Earth but good, although what were you really expecting from a film titled Deep Impact? At least President Morgan Freeman gets to give a speech about the resiliency of humanity at the very end of the movie. Because, you see, as promised by its ear-wormy ad copy: "Oceans rise. Cities fall. HOPE SURVIVES.")

Now either the example of Michael Bay and President Morgan Freeman ultimately convinced the good folks at America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to put their heads together — which, not to put too fine a point on it, would probably be the first time Michael Bay could be credibly accused of having caused anyone to think — or protecting the planet from colliding with inbound interstellar objects was already on their mind.

However you choose to look at it, NASA turned a lot of heads late last year by announcing the remarkable success of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, quietly launched in late 2021 to explore the possibility of deflecting an asteroid by flying a spaceship into it and, via momentum transfer, altering its flight path.

The test mission targeted an innocuous chunk of rock named Dimorphos orbiting a larger asteroid named Didymos. The DART spacecraft was flown directly into Dimorphos and the impact had the intended effect and then some: The collision altered Dimorphos's celestial trajectory enough to shorten its orbit around Didymos by 32 minutes, far exceeding the target of disrupting Dimorphos's orbit by 73 seconds.

The DART mission may not have directly saved all life on Earth, but it certainly provided a measure of confidence that late-20th-century cinema may have been on to something. Or was that, you know, really all that was going on here?

Anything involving NASA and rockets and asteroids is bound to ignite at least a few conspiracy theories, and the timing was more or less ideal for us to refer the matter to our resident panel of certified IT professionals participating in the 2023 Salary Survey. What did they think? Should we all just take NASA's account of events at face value? Or maybe, you know, not do that?

(Yes, of course we ask about stuff like this when we do the Salary Survey. Just not with an entirely straight face. Hey, even certified IT professionals can only take so many questions about compensation, certification, bonuses, and organizational titles.)

Here's what we learned:

Q: On Sept. 26, NASA's DART mission deliberately crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid to test whether humans could meaningfully change the trajectory of a near-Earth object (NEO) on a collision course with our planet. My first question is:

How cool is that?! Scientific discovery rules! — 24.5 percent
Was this a test mission, or was it, you know, a "test mission?" — 23.5 percent
All right, who fell asleep at Mission Control and cooked up this cover story? — 18.2 percent
This is the real reason that Bruce Willis stopped making movies, isn't it? — 13.3 percent
If an unmanned spacecraft slams into an unpopulated asteroid in the vacuum of space, does it make a sound? — 12.7 percent
In this economy? — 7.9 percent

The largest single segment of survey participants had the same nutshell reaction that probably most people did. "Hey, cool!" It's always fun and exciting, after all, when science provides evidence that humans are capable of things that earlier generations could scarcely have dreamed were possible. Particularly when the thing we learned we could do might someday save the whole Earth.

Almost as many certified IT professionals, however, were at least intrigued (or more likely amused) by the possibility that the Earth was in actual real danger from a collision and NASA kept the rescue mission on the down low until it succeeded. Hey, there's no reason to cause a mass panic over something that we might not have any means of stopping, right?

Or, you know, maybe someone wasn't paying close attention to the flight path of a multimillion (multibillion?) dollar space exploration vehicle and, aw, nuts! What are we going to tell the taxpayers happened to their cool spacecraft? Then there's Bruce Willis, whose character sacrifices himself to save humanity in Armageddon. The longtime action star retired from acting for medical reasons in March 2022. (Or did he?*)

And, hey, if we can't use the Salary Survey to crack "this economy" jokes, or make fun of philosophical dilemmas, then what are we even doing here?

* No, really, it was a medical condition. God bless Bruce Willis and the many wonderful movie memories he has made for us all.

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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