July 15, 1972

On July 15, 1972, NASA’s Pioneer 10 spacecraft became the first to enter the asteroid belt. NASA engineers spent several nerve-wracking hours dodging asteroids to successfully navigate this dangerous area of space. HAH! Just kidding. The asteroids are so far apart that Pioneer 10 was never in any real danger. While there are between 1.1 and 1.9 million asteroids larger than 1 kilometer in the belt and millions of smaller ones, it is estimated that the average distance between asteroids in the belt is around 600,000 miles. The idea that an asteroid belt is this hodge-modge of crashing and bouncing rocks is a sci-fi movie trope to create excitement in a starship chase. It’s very similar to when explorers in adventure movies would get stuck in quicksand and start sinking and go under and drown. In real life, neither quicksand, nor asteroid belts work the way movies taught us. So, get out there and drive your spaceship through an asteroid belt and wonder where all the asteroids have gone as you encourage your enemies to go to the jungle and fall into a quicksand trap and have them wonder why they only sink so far and never drown. (But they can get stuck. That’s the danger of quicksand. You get stuck in it and can’t get out, so only encourage your enemies to try it, and only if you are a villain trying to kill James Bond.)

About Joel Byers

Born in North Georgia and educated at some very fine public institutions. Real education started after graduating from college and then getting married and raising two boys. Has the ability to see the funny and absurd in most things and will always remark on it, even if it means getting the stink-eye from his victims.
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