Can I be the only one who wishes that our exercise in ‘space snooker’ had been a little less successful? The thought there is now a ten-thousand-kilometre-long dust cloud trailing behind asteroid Dimorphos where there wasn’t one before will delight some for the influence it shows we can have on the universe - and dismay others for the same reason.
Over thirty years ago Bill McKibben alerted us to the ‘end of nature’ in his eponymous book, arguing that global environmental change meant that ‘every inch and hour’ of the globe had the mark of the human on it. From now on, he wrote, a child born today will never know summer - only ‘summer’. With DART we’ve now proved ourselves capable of changing the dynamics of the universe itself, and I couldn’t help thinking as I looked up at the stars the other night that I was observing the ‘universe’, not the universe.
Call me over-sensitive, but we might have learned by now that overindulging the Promethean instinct can lead to less-than-ideal outcomes: climate change, biodiversity loss, the Covid pandemic. DART was an exercise in prophylactic Prometheanism, the side effect of which is to undergird the belief that we can protect ourselves from any eventuality rather than try to avoid it in the first place.
Here on Earth, prophylactic Prometheanism in the face of Covid led to untold numbers of collateral victims, a virtual absence of attention to its causes, and a handing over of emergency powers to the UK government which have - surprise, surprise - found their way into the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Public Order Bill.
So yes, I rather wish our DART had missed, then Icarus could have a conversation with Prometheus and here on Earth we’d be talking more about prevention and less about cure.