Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The golden age of Russian spacy exploration

NASA may be a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that offer no tangible or discernable benefits to the majority of the American taxpayers who finance them without consenting. But crashing a washing-machine-sized probe into a comet 83 million miles from Earth at a speed of 23,000 mi/hr is pretty cool — and I'm sure my blithe overlooking of the $330 million US project cost will come back to haunt me another day.

But if a Russian astrologer has her way, the project cost will come back to haunt NASA as a legal benchmark for national space agency-induced "moral trauma" damages:

Judge Litvinenko opened hearings into a case which could see Nasa pay a local amateur astrologist millions of dollars in damages. Writer Marina Bay claims that by slamming the probe into the comet, Nasa endangered the future of civilisation.

"Nobody has yet proven that this experiment was safe," says Ms Bay's lawyer Alexander Molokhov. "This impact could have altered the orbit of the comet, so now there is a chance that the Tempel may well destroy the Earth some day!"
But just in case the end of civilization doesn't itself render the judgment valueless, Ms. Bay has a default claim of personal victimization to fall back on:
"It is obvious that elements of the comet's orbit, and correspondingly the ephemeris, will change after the explosion, which interferes with my astrology work and distorts my horoscope," Izvestia daily quoted astrologist Marina Bai as saying in legal documents submitted before the collision.
As the BBC puts it:
Ms Marina's claims to be experiencing "a moral trauma" — which only a payment of $300m (252m euros; £170m) can put right.
Moral trauma ain't cheap these days, but it's readily available in all kinds of flavours in Russia:
Marina Bay's legal team remain confident, and they are even looking for volunteers to join in on the claim.

"The impact changed the magnetic properties of the comet, and this could have affected mobile telephony here on Earth. If your phone went down this morning, ask yourself Why? and then get in touch with us," says Mr Molokhov.
HT: Back Off Government for both stories.