Planetary Protection Panel

By John Goldberg & Dilip Banhatti

Activity Summary

Participants discuss and decide a hypothetical issue of the utmost importance and reflect on their decision-making process and skills.


  • To practice decision-making skills in a high-stakes situation.
  • To reflect on decision-making process and skills.

Group Size

10 to 30.


1 hour and 20 minutes.


Planetary Protection Panel, 1 copy for each participant.

Room Setup

Arrange the room with a table and chairs in front and chairs, with or without tables, in the middle.


1.  Introduce the session by explaining that participants are attending an emergency session of the Planetary Protection Panel.

2.  Distribute a copy of the Planetary Protection Panel handout to each participant. Ask them to read the handout. (5 minutes)

3.  Divide participants into three groups. One group is the Planetary Protection Panel. A second group is composed of scientists in favor of an on-surface detonation. The third group is scientists in favor of above surface detonation.

4.  Ask the two groups of scientists to prepare a 5-minute presentation to the Panel. Ask Panel members to engage in whatever conversation or other activities they think is best. (10 minutes)

5.  Ask the group of scientists favoring an on-surface detonation to make their presentation. Then ask the other group to make its presentation. (10 minutes)

6.  Ask the Panel to discuss the issue and make a decision. (20 minutes)

7.  Ask small groups to discuss their feelings about being part of such a high-stakes decision-making process. (5 minutes)

8.  Reconvene the entire group and ask the following questions:

  • How did you feel about being part of such a high-stakes decision-making process?
  • In what ways did your behavior or that of others help the decision-making process?
  • In what ways did your behavior or that of others hinder the decision-making process?
  • How could the decision-making process have been more effective?
  • How can you use what you learned today?


Present a slide with the text of the handout rather than providing a handout.

Play the comet impact scene from the movie Deep Impact before dividing participants into groups.


John Goldberg provides training in leadership, communication, teamwork, and career and personal development. He served for seven years as Manager, Organization Development for a Fortune 500 company. John teaches at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management. He is active in the California Network of Learning Professionals. John lives in Sacramento with his wife and two children.

Contact information. John Goldberg, MBA, 442 T Street, Sacramento, CA 95818-2122. Telephone: (916) 444-3353. Email: Website:

Dilip G. Banhatti teaches physics at many levels, especially at the university level. He first trained in mechanical engineering and then extragalactic radio astrophysics. He is also interested and active in science outreach. He has resumed at Madurai this year after being away in Europe for three and a half years with his wife (and two adult children off and on).

Contact information. Dilip G. Banhatti, Ph.D., School of Physics, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai 625021, India. Email: 



Planetary Protection Panel

You are attending an emergency session of the top secret Planetary Protection Panel. Members of the Panel include the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Secretary General of the UN and the President of the European Council.

Astronomers recently confirmed that a very large object is on a high-speed collision course with Earth. If the object hits our planet it will destroy all human life.

The European Space Agency has a rocket ready for immediate launch that is carrying a nuclear device and can reach the object in time to deflect or destroy it if launched within 45 minutes from now.

The scientific community is deeply divided regarding whether detonation of a nuclear device above the surface or on the surface is the most effective method for saving our planet. Detonation of a nuclear device on the surface of an object is believed to be 50 times more effective than detonating such a device above the surface.

However, an on-surface detonation is more likely to fragment the target which could result in several large, radioactive objects hitting Earth at even higher speed. Though less likely to prevent a full object collision, an above surface detonation is more likely to deflect it without fragmentation and potential multiple collisions.

Representatives of both sides of the debate will each make a 5-minute presentation. After that, the Panel will have 20 minutes to discuss and decide which course of action to order.