NASA sued over space mission

NASA is running a research experiment in which they will crash a probe into the Tempel-1 comet, trying to gain insights from the impact, and hopefully learn more about the composition of the comet’s core. This is called the Deep Impact mission.

Some people, though, aren’t happy. One is unhappy enough to go and sue NASA over the mission. Marina Bai, a Russian “self-published author and spiritualist”, is suing in a Russain court, over moral damages:

“Somewhere deep inside me, a voice told me the whole mission had to be stopped,” she said in an interview. “I fear that it could have an impact on all humanity.”

In court papers, Bai asserted that Deep Impact would “infringe upon my system of spiritual and life values, in particular on the values of every element of creation, upon the unacceptability of barbarically interfering with the natural life of the universe, and the violation of the natural balance of the universe.”

I just hope that the voice which told her that was a metaphor. If she’s really hearing voices, this may cause people to believe she may be a bit mentally imbalanced… Oh, heck, as if the rest of the lawsuit doesn’t make that point strongly enough as it is. The women is nuts.

The people at NASA think that she’s insane as well. Though they said it in one of the nicest ways I ever encountered. Not too hard to read between the lines, though:

Dolores Beasley, a spokeswoman for NASA, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment.

Is there any real danger, a chance that the impact will noticeably divert the comet? The scientists don’t think so. Of course, since they’re not yet entirely certain about the composition, they may turn out to be wrong, but the current estimations still allow for a very wide margin of error:

Scientists have dismissed fears that the collision might break up or divert the comet, comparing the impact to a mosquito striking a Boeing 747.

Still, even if she could prove the moral damage, and if the judges would for some reason rule in her favour, how bad can it be? How much can those damages be worth? Well, apparently according to Russian law, it can amount to quite a lot:

Bai’s attorney, Alexander V. Molokhov, said the damage claim was calculated under Russian law, which allows plaintiffs to recover an amount equal to the cost of the undertaking that allegedly does the harm.

So that would be around the entire cost of the mission. An interesting law I must say, granting compensation based on the cost of causing the damage, rather than on the damage itself.

If we had such a law here, I guess stuff like the current disengagement plans would have never happened. Imagine if every person who sees this as a moral crime and affront would sue, for the entire cost of the plan? If the court would accept that there were damages (and in this case a theoretical moral damage could be easily proved, since according to the believes of some of these people that’s really a big deal), the country would go broke… Hmm, there are Gush Katif residents who are immigrants from Russia, and who I think still have their Russain citizenship. I’m not that much of an expert on international law, but I wonder if they can sue using Russian courts, despite them also being Israeli residents and the better jurisdiction of Israeli courts…

In any case, a very interesting lawsuit. I doubt any sane judge will rule in her favour, especially considering the request compensations. Still:

Steven P. Maran, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society and author of “Astronomy for Dummies,” reacted to Bai’s claims with humor.

“I get dizzy just thinking of this lawsuit,” he said. “But I don’t think the outcome is written in the stars.”

On the bright side, if she does win, the money will do good. The women obviously have some taste and good sense. I don’t know about those alleged oligarchs, but I wouldn’t have bought a soccer team either:

If she wins the case, she said, her nonprofit Transformations fund will spend the award on environmental and social programs.

“Unlike the oligarchs, I’m not going to buy a soccer team with the money,” she said.

The story got covered in plenty of papers. And surprisingly (or maybe not so suprisingly, given the fact that reports all to often bother to do a lot less fact-checking than they should) enough there are some factual differences between the reports.

Like for example, the above quoted article claims she asks compensations for a sum of $311 million. While other reports claim the actual investment in the mission was more like $330 million. It may sound like a small differece, a mere 6 percent or so, but I assure you that 19 million USD is not a small sum. Seriously.

Or, as another example, while the article I quoted states that scientists compared the impact to a “mosquito striking a Boeing 747″, the article linked in the above paragraph, about the mission itself, states that the scientists compared it to a “mosquito running into a 767 airliner”. The 747 is only double the size of a 767, so while a collision with a mosquito won’t matter much to any of them, that’s still a major difference.

Marina Bai herself, who is described in most places as a “self-published author and spiritualist”, is on other articles, some from Russain sources, described as a “local astrologer”.

Almost makes it seem as if reading the papers is as accurate as reading the map of the heavnens…

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