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It So Happened
The Comet 2, Part 1.
• Duttada is invited to the secret conference.
• How to change the course of Comet Dutta is the scientists' hidden
• Duttada and the Defence Advisor become close friends, and share
BY the time they finished their deliberations and Sir John dropped
him at his hotel off Regent Street, it was 1 a m There was hardly
any crowd on the street but when James looked up from his
window a star-studded night sky greeted him. Somewhere amongst
these stars was Comet Dutta heading for a collision with the Earth.
It was hard to believe the calamity of the future on such a peaceful
night. For a moment James wondered if he had done his
Whatever doubt James may have had about Sir John's efficiency
were quickly dispelled when he reported for the conference and
found that all the experts listed by him were there. Astronomers,
computer scientists, nuclear physicists, space technologists,
biologists, all were there. And as Sir John's special invitee was
present the man who had started it all --- Manoj Dutta.
The conference lasted one week and went on under total cover of
secrecy. First the experts checked and rechecked James Forsyth's
calculation with the latest observations of Comet Dutta. He was
right: there was no escape from the direct hit predicted by him.
There was a small chance that the comet may just graze the
atmosphere of the Earth and not collide. In that case the loss of life
and property would not be total. But this slight respite was hardly
reassuring enough for taking no action.
Having decided that some action was needed, what form should
it take? The experts dismissed defensive measures like living in
underground bunkers. It was simply not a practical proposition.
So the only course was to take offensive action. Comet Dutta could
be marginally deflected from its path by giving it a push.
The experts calculated that the bulk of destructive nuclear power
available on the Earth would be needed to achieve this mammoth
task. A gigantic nuclear explosion suitably placed, suitably directed
and suitably timed could do the trick. This could be done by placing
the nuclear payload in a spaceship, sending it to intercept the
approaching comet and detonating it by remote control. Success or
failure, secrecy must be preserved. Finally a time-table was drawn
up for the operation which was code-named 'Project Light Brigade'.
The important dates in it were:
October 10: Despatch the spacecraft with the payload unless
by then the comet is already destroyed by natural causes
or has changed its path due to unforeseen reasons.
November 15: Rendezvous with the comet and detonation
of the payload.
December 15: If the experiment failed this was the day the
comet would hit the Earth. If it succeeded, this was the day
the comet would pass by at a near but safe distance.
The success of the experiment depended on how massive the
comet was. Nobody could estimate; everybody hoped that it was not
"Do you think we will succeed?" Duttada asked Sir John
Macpherson for his opinion. During the week the two had developed
considerable affinity for each other.
"Mr Dutta, I will give you an honest answer! I am not buying any
Christmas presents till December 15."
Duttada toured the British Isles for two weeks after the conference
and he had a pleasant time visiting observatories and exchanging
views with amateur as well as professional astronomers. On his
return he was greeted by the inevitable vast crowd of friends, social
leaders, students and the usual hangers-on. Loaded with garlands
and bombarded by questions from the press he somehow made his
way to the waiting car.
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