Project Icarus Systems Engineering
This technological fantasy, the product of the MIT Students System Project and the inspiration for the 1979 film "Meteor," presents a plan for avoiding a hypothetical collision between Earth and the Apollo asteroid, Icarus, which sweeps by every nineteen years within a few million miles (a near-miss in astronomical terms). Collision with a four billion-ton rock would create a catastrophe equal to the destructive power of half a trillion tons of TNT.
To prevent tidal waves from washing away the coasts of North America and Europe and shock waves from fracturing the earth's substructure, the Project Icarus plan calls for six 100-megaton hydrogen bombs to be ready for liftoff in sequence from the Kennedy Space Center by six Saturn V rockets in an attempt to push the asteroid off course or to smash it into harmless debris. Clearly, money is no object; all the financial resources of the country are assumed available to the crack Project Icarus team. But time and accuracy are essential.
The description of the frantic project schedule from go-ahead to impact includes selection and modification of the launch vehicle and spacecraft; "design" of the nuclear warhead and prediction of its interaction with the asteroid in space; guidance and control of the spacecraft on its critical intercept trajectory; development of an intercept monitoring satellite to gather scientific data from the asteroid and the explosion; the tight management and rigid PERT schedule; and the economic impact of the project.
How close to Earth will Icarus's eccentric orbit carry it next time? What are the chances of some other, as yet undiscovered, asteroid—or worse, a random meteor—making its way straight for Earth? The MIT team's plan may yet be put to the test.