To be fair to Clark R. Chapman, the Southwest Research Institute asteroid expert, there are an awful lot of rocks out there, and fewer than 200 have been ticked off the list of an expected 2,000 near-Earth objects. But Chapman's star turn at the House Science Committee Thursday provided little more than an advert for NASA's proposed $5 million asteroid tracking program, a wrist-slap for the Clinton administration's vetoing of an Air Force asteroid mission, and -- whisper it low -- a chance for Congress to cash in on the "Deep Impact" craze before Godzilla stomps all over the box office. Perhaps DreamWorks, who spent $27 million destroying the Earth, will offer to write NASA a check.
If an asteroid disaster movie ever gets made again after this summer's glut, here's a good opening scene: Panicked scientist testifies before congressional committee. A mountain-sized space rock, he warns, "could hit tomorrow and we wouldn't even know it was coming." Pan across committee members wearing concerned expressions. Cut to spinning newspapers with alarmist headlines. Melt to crowds of city dwellers gazing anxiously at the heavens.