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Rohrabacher keeps eyes to the sky whilst others pols dawdle

Two great Americans

We need to take the next step. Our NEO search and tracking program continues to move forward, but nobody is taking responsibility for protection. I am more confident than ever in our ability to identify potential threats from asteroids and comets, but it is critical to the future of humanity that we develop the capabilities to protect ourselves from those threats

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, July 24, 2010, Space.com


Congress Proposes Commission to Study Asteroid Impact Threat
By Leonard David
SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist
posted: 19 July 2010
01:40 pm ET

Lawmakers are paying new attention to how best to shield Earth from a bad day — getting whacked by an asteroid or comet that has our planet in its cross-hairs.

A new bill introduced to Congress proposes establishing a government-sponsored commission to study the threat of a major space rock collision with Earth and how prepared we are — as a country and a planet — to face such a danger.

There is a growing choir of concern regarding Near Earth Objects, or NEOs – spotting them and dealing with any Earth-threatening gatecrashers.

While the annual probability of the Earth being struck by a huge asteroid or comet is small, the consequences of such a collision are so calamitous that it is prudent to appraise the nature of the threat and prepare to deal with it, experts say. [Gallery: Holes in the Earth]

Last month, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R – CA) introduced the new bill before Congress, H.R. 5587, titled: “To establish a United States Commission on Planetary Defense and for other purposes.”

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Science and Technology, on which Rohrabacher serves as a member. Both sides of the aisle are now looking at the commission idea.

Planetary readiness

“We need to take the next step,” Rohrabacher told SPACE.com. “Our NEO search and tracking program continues to move forward, but nobody is taking responsibility for protection. I am more confident than ever in our ability to identify potential threats from asteroids and comets, but it is critical to the future of humanity that we develop the capabilities to protect ourselves from those threats.”

Rohrabacher said that the Commission on Planetary Defense that he is proposing will review our planetary readiness for an impact event and make recommendations on how to develop an adequate response system to those threats.

As outlined in the bill, the purposes of the commission would be to:

  • Determine capabilities of United States Government entities, nongovernment organizations, foreign governments and entities, and international bodies to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous Near Earth Objects;
  • Identify and evaluate roles and responsibilities of United States Government entities to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;
  • Determine United States effectiveness in leading international efforts to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;
  • Build upon United States Government and foreign analyses, studies, and assessments, without duplicating efforts, to determine current and required NEO characterization and mitigation capabilities;
  • Identify and report on technology development required to provide effective planetary defense from dangerous NEOs; and
  • Investigate and report to the President and Congress on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures that can be taken to provide planetary defense.

One function of the proposed seven-member commission is to assess the current ability of United States and foreign technology to defend our planet. Technologies that could aid the fight against a NEO threat include modeling and simulation capabilities, as well as nuclear devices, high order explosive systems, and laser systems.

The bill also requests a budget “not to exceed” $2 million for the commission.

Unexpected impact

Rohrabacher’s initiative joins a rising tide of interest in NEOs.

For example, earlier this year, the prestigious National Research Council issued a report on Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies. This study was carried out at the joint request of NASA and the U.S. Congress.

The White House is engaged in identifying an agency to be responsible for NEO threat mitigation.

Similarly, the NASA Advisory Council Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense is also deliberating on next steps.

Speaking at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida last April, President Barack Obama outlined plans for NASA that included sending an astronaut expedition to an asteroid by 2025. Such a trip could teach scientists a great deal about space rocks, including knowledge that might help prevent a calamitous collision with one.

Moreover, the Obama administration’s just-issued National Space Policy calls for pursuing capabilities, in cooperation with other departments, agencies, and commercial partners, “to detect, track, catalog, and characterize near-Earth objects to reduce the risk of harm to humans from an unexpected impact on our planet and to identify potentially resource-rich planetary objects.”

From his view, Rohrabacher concluded: “We know the threats are real. Earth has been hit many times with devastation ranging from local to regional, and even to planetary scales. It is just a matter of time until the threat appears again, and we must be ready.”

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi George –

    This issue spans both sides of the aisle, from Rohrabacher to Weiner. It has bi-partisan support, and please remember the Obama set finding these things as his number two space science priority, and set a manned mission to an asteroid as the US’s next manned goal in space.

    If NASA’s Ed Weiler can not handle the task, then I’m pretty sure that there are people in NASA who can.

    Rep. Rohrbacher is absolutely right in calling for this study, as we need to get a mechanism in place so that an impact does not set off an accidental war with WMD.

  • E.P. Grondine

    should read “that Obama” not “the Obama” – f’ing stroke

  • <blockquote cite="Moreover, the Obama administration’s just-issued National Space Policy calls for pursuing capabilities, in cooperation with other departments, agencies, and commercial partners, “to detect, track, catalog, and characterize near-Earth objects to reduce the risk of harm to humans from an unexpected impact on our planet and to identify potentially resource-rich planetary objects.””>

    This whole issue needs to be treated as an investment rather than as a cost!! Perhaps it would be a good time to start emphasizing the PHO (potentially hazardous object) to BRO (benign resource object) aspect of such an endeavor and how this would be good for the environment as well as the economy even if we do not have to actively deflect an object to prevent an impact for the next hundred years.

    bobk

  • George Howard

    I know, Ed. I worked for years in the USS and understand this issue is surprisingly bipartisan so far as pols that give a damm. But the way I view it, one party has always been willing to spend anything on everything that may threaten us, and the other has been more parsimonious with their call on the public purse for mitigating “scary things” of a scientific nature. I was trying to point that out here. Even a priest of the latter, is willing to join hands with the former, with regard to this truly disturbing field of public policy. Best, my friend.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Thanks George –

    The impact alliance is bi-partisan, and has been that way for a long time. The House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, voted through the George Brown Jr amendment. The work of Rep Rohrabacher in forging this alliance on this legislation is particularly commendable, and I hope I see more of this leadership from him in the future on other issues as well.

    The earlier predicted impact point for Apophis off California certainly played a role in Rohrabcher’s effort, as Dallas Abbott’s study of Hudson Valley impact mega-tsunami motivated Rep. Weiner. The giggle factor went away real quick.

    Obama and Bolden are on board now,
    but we will need bi-partisan support to get NASA mid level bureaucrats off their butts.

    In my opinion, Ed Weiler should “resign” for his role in the contempt of Congress shown in the NASA response to the George Brown Jr amendment. That would be a good start.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi once again George –

    We should also remember the actions of retired Rep Boehlert of NY, one of the finest public servants I met while covering space in DC.