Two similar but unrelated events on Friday—a meteor that struck the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, reportedly causing hundreds of (mostly minor) injuries, and the flyby Friday afternoon of asteroid 2012 DA14, which will pass closer to the Earth than geostationary orbit satellites—have gotten the attention of many people, including a key congressman who is vowing to look into the issue in the near future.
“Today’s events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in a statement Friday. “We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth.”
Smith’s statement noted that the science committee will hold a hearing “in the coming weeks” on the issue, specifically “ways to better identify and address asteroids that pose a potential threat to Earth.”
The committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), has frequently talked about what is sometimes called planetary defense, and he’s also spoken out on the issue. “This should serve as a wake-up call,” he said in a separate statement Friday. He added that he’s particularly concerned “we have no plan that can protect the Earth from any comet or asteroid. So, even if we find one that will hit us, we might not be able to deflect it.”
Rohrabacher also noted that he is working with Rep. Smith “to expedite a hearing on planetary protection from these ‘near Earth objects’ as soon as we can.”