Dec. 21, 2012: Fearful 'end of world' callers flood NASA
If there's one government agency really looking forward to Dec. 22, it's NASA.
The space agency said it has been flooded with calls and emails from people asking about the purported end of the world — which, as the doomsday myth goes, is apparently set to take place on Dec. 21, 2012.
The myth might have originated with the Mayan calendar, but in the age of the Internet and social media, it proliferated online, raising questions and concerns among hundreds of people around the world who have turned to NASA for answers.
Dwayne Brown, an agency spokesman, said NASA typically receives about 90 calls or emails per week containing questions from people. In recent weeks, he said, that number has skyrocketed — from 200 to 300 people are contacting NASA per day to ask about the end of the world.
"Who's the first agency you would call?" he said. "You're going to call NASA."
The questions range from myth (Will a rogue planet crash into Earth? Is the sun going to explode? Will there be three days of darkness?) to the macabre (Brown said some people have "embraced it so much" they want to hurt themselves). So, he said, NASA decided to do "everything in our power" to set the facts straight.
That effort included interviews with scientists posted online and a web page Brown said has drawn more than 4.6 million views.
It also involved a video titled, "Why the World Didn't End Yesterday." Though the title of the video implies a Dec. 22 release date, Brown said NASA posted the four-minute clip last week to help spread its message.
NASA suspected it might have to create such a campaign a few years ago, when the idea of the world ending began "festering," Brown said. The apocalyptic action movie "2012," released in 2009, didn't help, he said.
"We kind of look ahead — we're a look-ahead agency — and we said, 'You know what? People are going to probably want to come to us' " for answers, Brown explained. "We're doing all that we can do to let the world know that as far as NASA and science goes, Dec. 21 will be another day."
NASA has handled high-profile events before, Brown said, including the Venus transit this year, but nothing the agency has had to "debunk" has been this big.
"It's been a very, very busy week," he said.
As for Saturday, when the questions — not the world — end: "I wish it was tomorrow."
— Kate Mather