This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

16 March 2007

Rusty has an Op-Ed in the New York Times

Selections from the op-ed follow:

Last week two events in Washington — a conference on “planetary defense” held by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the release by NASA of a report titled “Near-Earth Object Survey and Deflection Analysis of Alternatives” — gave us good news and bad on this front. On the promising side, scientists have a good grasp of the risks of a cosmic fender-bender, and have several ideas that could potentially stave off disaster. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to have any clear plan to put this expertise into action.

But instead of coming up with a plan and budget to get the job done, the report bluntly stated that “due to current budget constraints, NASA cannot initiate a new program at this time.” Representative Bart Gordon, Democrat of Tennessee, was right to say that “NASA’s recommended approach isn’t a credible plan” and that Congress expected “a more responsive approach” within the year.

Why did the space agency drop the ball? Like all government departments, it fears the dreaded “unfunded mandate”; Congress has the habit of directing agencies to do something and then declining to give them the money to do so. This is understandable. But in this case, Congress not only directed NASA to provide it with a recommended program but also asked for the estimated budget to support it. It was a left-handed way for the Congress to say to NASA that this is our priority ... like it or not. But for some reason NASA seems to have opted for a federal form of civil disobedience.

In the end, of course, this is not just America’s problem, as an asteroid strike would be felt around the globe. The best course is international coordination on deflection technology, along with global agreements on what should be done if a collision looks likely. Along these lines, the Association of Space Explorers, a group of more than 300 people from 30 nations who have flown in space (of which I am a member), is beginning a series of meetings in cooperation with the United Nations to work out the outlines of such an agreement.

Still, as with many global issues, little will be accomplished unless the United States takes the lead. With the entire planet in the cross hairs, NASA can’t be allowed to dither. If Congress’s mandates and budget requests aren’t energizing the agency, perhaps public hearings would shame it into action.

New York Times
Op-Ed Contributor
"The Sky Is Falling. Really"
16 March 2007

Link: Article

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