'Be Prepared' might be the official motto of the Boy Scouts, but it's also a maxim that appeals to governments the world over. If you want to be in power, it isn't enough to just respond to situations as they happen, often you need to develop a contingency plan - regardless of how outlandish the threat might seem.
Luckily, many of these plans never come to fruition, but that doesn't mean the government, and related organizations, haven't prepared for situations that you're much more likely to see in Hollywood than in reality.
NASA Drafted Nixon a Speech in the Event Apollo 11 Failed
With the space race in full swing, there was certainly a lot riding on the success of the Apollo 11 mission. However, it seems that the Nixon administration were prepared for a Gravity-esque situation in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were left stranded on the moon.
Well, perhaps 'prepared' isn't the right word. They didn't have a rescue plan - that was impossible - but they did have a fairly poetic public statement which lamented the loss of the heroes. You can read it below:
Officially, NASA stated there was only a 0.1% chance that the Lunar Lander's ascent engine would have failed, leaving the astronauts stranded. Privately, however, Neil Armstrong is rumored to have stated the whole mission had closer to a 50/50 success rate.
Making First Contact With Extra-Terrestrial Life
If movies have taught us anything, it's that first contact with aliens probably isn't going to go smoothly. With this in mind, you'd think the government would prepare a plan on how to deal with extra-terrestrial visitors.
If they have, they're certainly keeping it under wraps, as nothing has officially been announced. However, NASA and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Agency (SETI) have compiled reports about how to welcome space voyagers.
For example, SETI has established the Post Detection Taskgroup which are tasked with advising governments on how to deal with aliens. Their plan seems to be as follows:
- Any state or individual intercepting signals believed to be extra-terrestrial must submit them to SETI and other research organizations for confirmation.
- The signal origin must be kept secret to prevent others from attempting unilateral communication.
- Once confirmed, the United Nations and International Astronomical Union should be informed. No individual entity or state should attempt communication.
- A press conference should be held in which those who discovered the signal have the privilege of making the announcement.
- The world should then come to an agreement if and how to respond via 'appropriate international consultations.' Binary code is often accepted as the most pertinent way to respond and should be sent on behalf of all humankind. The message should reflect "careful concern for the broad interests and well-being of Humanity."
NASA also compiled a report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis which examined which outcomes were likely from meeting Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (ETI). They devised three scenarios, beneficial, neutral, and harmful. You can see the broad outlines below:
Unfortunately, according to some academics, the outlook is not good. Even Stephen Hawkings has accepted that if aliens did encounter Earth, it probably wouldn't end well for us. He theorized that any civilization that reached Earth would have likely exhausted its own resources and would now live a nomadic lifestyle, harvesting one planet after the other.
The Zombie Apocalypse
Yep, that's right. It's not just Rick Grimes and his pals which are concerned with the walking dead. It seems the US Government is, too... kind of...
Earlier this year, ForeignPolicy.com uncovered an unclassified document titled CONOP 8888, which is better known as "Counter-Zombie Dominance." As you can probably guess, the document was an operational plan for dealing with the undead. It even classes the different types of zombies which can be expected, including, pathogenic zombies, radiation zombies, evil magic zombies, space zombies, weaponized zombies, symbiant-induced zombies, vegetarian zombies and, strangely, chicken zombies.
The report stated:
This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve 'non-zombie' humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde. Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population -- including traditional adversaries.
Among many other things, the report concerns how to protect and maintain local governance, conduct an adequate humanitarian response and ultimately battle the undead. Broadly, the plan falls into several stages: "Shape," "Deter," "Seize Initiative," "Dominate," "Stabilize," "Restore Civil Authority," which includes "prepar[ing] to redeploy the forces to attack surviving zombie holdouts."
Now, unfortunately, this plan is not an operational U.S. Strategic Command plan, but simply a training exercise used to promote initiative and develop concepts of disaster relief. However, as the disclaimer points out, the plan is "not actually designed as a joke" and the concepts explored within are seriously meant to deal with a hypothetical zom-pocalypse.
Asteroid Armageddon Impact
Now, many of the above scenarios are fairly unlikely, but this next one is an apocalyptic event which is actually statistically certain to happen... In fact it already sort of has.
In February last year, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia with the force of 30 atomic bombs. Luckily, it was high enough in the atmosphere to cause only moderate damage on the ground, however it highlighted a major issue - no one saw it coming.
In the wake of this event, the UN General Assembly finally approved the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Group, something which experts had been advocating for years.
The group made recommendations consisting of three distinct phases.
1. Get Prepared. The IAWG called for the creation of an agency explicitly tasked with dealing with collision-course asteroids. They stated:
No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies. NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency.
2. Locate the asteroids. Stopping asteroids is only viable if we know they're actually coming. Indeed, experts suggest they might need to spot an asteroid a decade before it hits Earth to have any chance of stopping it. This is something NASA has been doing since 2005, although earlier this year they announced they had so far only spotted 10 percent of the Earth-shattering-sized asteroids out there. In the words of my old gym teacher, "that's not good enough"!
3. Devise course altering strategies. Once we've spotted those suckers, we need to somehow slap them off their current course. If this is done early enough, even a slight nudge might be enough to cause it to miss Earth. The most popular strategy at the moment is rather basic - ramming the asteroid with a big rocket. However, other methods are available including nuking them (not always advisable), using a gravity tractor to pull if off course, or most interestingly, "wrapping the asteroid in a sheet of reflective plastic such as aluminized clingfilm, which will act as a solar sail."
At no point in the plan do we need to consult a gang of tough, rough oil drilling experts or consult Michael Bay.
So do these plans, or lack thereof, make you feel more or less safe? Let us know below.