Congress, NASA

More Congressional interest in near Earth objects

A week after the Chelyabinsk meteor and asteroid 2012 DA14 flyby, which got the attention of some members of Congress, two other key members of Congress are expressing interest in the issue of tracking near Earth objects (NEOs) and mitigating any impact risks, although it remains to be seen if this interest will translate into additional funding for NASA NEO activities or other actions.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a current member and former chairman of the House Science Committee, sent a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden asking for information on NASA’s NEO activities. Sensenbrenner asked Bolden to provide answers within a month to several questions about NASA’s efforts to track “cosmic objects” (the phrase he uses throughout his letter to refer to NEOs) as well as any “plans designed to eliminate the threats posed by cosmic objects on a collision course with Earth” and the required lead time. “We would be remiss if we did not use the recent events as an opportunity to survey our current capabilities and assess how we can better use limited resources to identify potential threats,” he wrote.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, tells the Huntsville Times that upcoming hearings on NEO impact risks will involve “tough questions” about what NASA should be doing. “Are we focusing our dollars in the right place? Should we be worrying about Mars or distant planets, or should we be worried about the things that could disrupt our way of life on Earth?” he told told the newspaper during a visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

49 comments to More Congressional interest in near Earth objects

  • Oh boy, they can sense a new opportunity to direct pork to their districts …

  • DCSCA

    More Congressional interest in near Earth objects

    =eyeroll= Maybe if a lot of dashcams across the US took video of collapsing infrastructure, or of people collapsing ub agony when reading their hospital bills or exploding in anger at the price of food, gas and utilities, Congress will take an interest in that.

    This is an issue for the UN, not the US Congress.

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA said:

      This is an issue for the UN, not the US Congress.

      If there is a meteor coming to hit the world, I’m not trusting the safety of the U.S. to 3rd world nations that can’t even afford a telescope.

      If there is enough of a recognized threat, then the nations who are capable of addressing the threat will likely form an alliance, something like what NATO is, to deal with it. The UN could set up a funding mechanism that all nations contribute to, but otherwise those directly involved are likely to be the same nations that are involved with the ISS, plus China.

      • DCSCA

        “If there is a meteor coming to hit the world, I’m not trusting the safety of the U.S. to 3rd world nations that can’t even afford a telescope.” whined Ron.

        This is just myopic. Nay– ignorance.

        • Coastal Ron

          DCSCA said:

          This is just myopic.

          And your response is lacking any content to convince anyone you have a point – which makes your comment pointless… ;-)

  • amightywind

    This summarizes the congressional reaction.

  • Coastal Ron

    Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) asked:

    asked Bolden to provide answers within a month to several questions about NASA’s efforts to track “cosmic objects” (the phrase he uses throughout his letter to refer to NEOs) as well as any “plans designed to eliminate the threats posed by cosmic objects on a collision course with Earth” and the required lead time.

    Apparently the congressman is confusing NASA with the Department of Defense.

    There is no way this nation should entrust the defense of our nation (and the world in general) to NASA – they don’t have the skill set to do it. And that’s not a slam against NASA, it’s just reality based on their charter and their makeup. We’re living in reality here, not a Bruce Willis movie.

    Sure NASA could help contribute information, and advise about technology solutions, but otherwise it should the DoD in charge.

    • Guest

      So we should entrust the defense of our country to a couple of small commercial space telescope and cube satellite startups?

      Didn’t somebody just propose the death star solution?

      • Coastal Ron

        Guest said:

        So we should entrust the defense of our country to a couple of small commercial space telescope and cube satellite startups?

        You are responding to the wrong person. I said the Department of Defense should be in charge.

        • Guest

          If that’s the case then Col M.V. “Coyote” Smith is your point man, since I presume that solar power and flux will be an integral part of your cosmic death star zapper.

          • Coastal Ron

            Guest confusedly said:

            If that’s the case then Col M.V. “Coyote” Smith is your point man, since I presume that solar power and flux will be an integral part of your cosmic death star zapper.

            I think you’re having a problem with your browser, because you keep carrying on a conversation with me that I never started nor participated in.

            The conversation I was having was WHO should be responsible for protecting the U.S. from asteroids and meteors, not HOW we should be mitigating them. Weird.

    • E. P. Grondine

      Hi CR –

      I think you are confusing DoD with DoE here. In any case, the Congress decided NASA’s role in this task with the George Brown Jr amendment.

      • Coastal Ron

        E. P. Grondine said:

        I think you are confusing DoD with DoE here.

        Nope. The mission of the Department of Defense is:

        … to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.

        Meteors and asteroids crashing and exploding within U.S. territory threaten our security.

        • E. P. Grondine

          Hi CR –

          I personally refer to keep DoD tightly focused on more Earth bound threats, and so did the Congress.

          In as much as impact defense involves the peaceful use of outer space, and technologies which NASA has expertise in, which the DoD does not, it seems to me that the Congress made the right decision in passing the George Brown Jr amendment.

          • Coastal Ron

            E. P. Grondine said:

            I personally refer to keep DoD tightly focused on more Earth bound threats, and so did the Congress.

            Maybe you are looking at it as more of a natural disaster that we can avert, as opposed to a intelligently guided act. I can understand that.

            However even with the mutated interpretation of what NASA’s charter supposedly says it is, I would rather have an organization that is already focused on protecting lives to be in charge than an organization that has to learn that skill.

            In as much as impact defense involves the peaceful use of outer space…

            Asteroids don’t know how to read.

            The moment a planet-killer asteroid is determined to be on track to hit us, everyone on Earth is going to be cheering on the use of any and all means to avert disaster. Treaty renegotiation won’t be a problem.

            • Call Me Ishmael

              The moment a planet-killer asteroid is determined to be on track to hit us, everyone on Earth is going to be cheering on the use of any and all means to avert disaster.

              Well, not quite. There is a lunatic fringe to the environmental movement that regards humanity as a disease which should be eliminated. And I would be willing to bet that there will be lawsuits filed against the implementation of any particular means, because NIMBY, or because it discriminates against group XYZ, or . . . whatever.

              • Coastal Ron

                Call Me Ishmael said:

                There is a lunatic fringe to the environmental movement that regards humanity as a disease which should be eliminated.

                Yes, and I’m sure there are quite a few religious conservatives that will see impending doom as a quick way to heaven.

                But the 99% of the people in the world that would prefer to continue their existence here on Earth will be cheering on the use of any and all means to avert disaster.

                And I would be willing to bet that there will be lawsuits filed against the implementation of any particular means, because NIMBY, or because it discriminates against group XYZ, or . . . whatever.

                My, aren’t we cynical. Impending death has a way of clarifying things – it won’t be a problem.

              • Call Me Ishmael

                Coastal Ron said:

                My, aren’t we cynical. Impending death has a way of clarifying things – it won’t be a problem.

                For some values of “impending”. And therein lies the problem. Most people, if told that something was coming to kill them in ten years’ time, would not be willing to seriously inconvenience themselves immediately to avert it. But that is the time scale needed to effectively deal with small asteroids.

              • Coastal Ron

                Call Me Ishmael said:

                Most people, if told that something was coming to kill them in ten years’ time, would not be willing to seriously inconvenience themselves immediately to avert it.

                Since this is a theoretical discussion, I’ll concede that, since there are many people that are prone to procrastination.

                However I think there are enough people that are not procrastinators that it won’t be a problem. But we won’t know until the problem presents itself, however I know which group I’ll be in…

                But that is the time scale needed to effectively deal with small asteroids.

                Today maybe, since we haven’t had to focus on the problem. But with greater advance warning, and more experience, we may have far more time than that.

  • Palazzo is also asking the wrong question. It’s not what NASA should be doing, but what the nation should be doing. But if you think that “space = NASA” then you’ll always think that it’s a nail to be hit with that hammer.

    • Robert G. Oler

      “. But if you think that “space = NASA” then you’ll always think that it’s a nail to be hit with that hammer.”

      Simberg and I disagree on many things but on this we are in complete agreement. RGO

    • E. P. Grondine

      Hi Rand –

      I’ll have to disagree with you.

      While space does not always equal NASA, the decision to task NASA with dealing with this hazard was made after careful consideration of the alternatives.

      Rep. Pallazo is asking the correct question, and whether we are getting the most for our dollar for any federal expenditure is always a good question for any federal agency, and not just NASA.

  • Scott Bass

    My position remains that this should be under the United Nations …. Obviously NASA has a major role to play but the cost should be shared by all

    • A M Swallow

      Most countries do not pay the UN but accept money from the UN. Bringing the UN into the administration of meteor defense will simply increase the cost and slow things down.

      The UN needs to (a) give its blessing and (b) provide a way to alert the people and authorities in the strike zone.

      Blowing things up is the job of the Department of Defense. Launching and looking through telescopes is NASA’s job.

      • Coastal Ron

        A M Swallow observed:

        Blowing things up is the job of the Department of Defense. Launching and looking through telescopes is NASA’s job.

        A pretty good summation.

        • E. P. Grondine

          Hi AM, CR –

          “Blowing things up is the job of the Department of Defense. Launching and looking through telescopes is NASA’s job.”

          That depends on how big they are and where they are. Why both of you think that this always has to involve the use of nuclear charges in every case is beyond me.

          • Coastal Ron

            E. P. Grondine said:

            Why both of you think that this always has to involve the use of nuclear charges in every case is beyond me.

            It may seem that way from the shorthand I use for stopping the Earth (and our butts) from being blasted by an asteroid, but if we can predict the collisions far enough in advance, nuclear weapons may not be the first thing we try.

          • A M Swallow

            I did not mention nuclear weapons. The Department of Defense has not used any to blow things up since 1945.

            High explosives and solid shells are suitable for most meteors, comets and end-of-life satellites.

  • E. P. Grondine

    Hello everyone,

    The job of NASA Adminstrator has long been listed in the Prune Book, not the Plum Book. In my opinion Administrator Bolden has been doing a fine job in navigating those stormy waters.

    But my guess is that he is about to learn about a lot of problems he never knew he had. In other words, in regard to dealing with the impact hazard, some of his employees have not served him, NASA, or the nation well, but served themselves instead.

    This is a situation that started long before Bolden became Administrator; it has continued from the early 1980′s on under several of his predecessors, without their knowledge as well.

  • E. P. Grondine

    “Are we focusing our dollars in the right place? Should we be worrying about Mars or distant planets, or should we be worried about the things that could disrupt our way of life on Earth?”

    Rep. Palazzo is asking exactly the right question.

    If anyone knows where the 2011 Hubble images of Comet 73P’s debris stream are, now would be a good time to speak up, as its due in our area in 2022.

  • A M Swallow

    The technology to destroy and/or divert meteors & comets needs developing. This will take several years and cost a lot of money.

    There are valid civil defense responses to strikes by cosmic objects. The strike area could be evacuated. Hospitals, ambulances and rescue workers in surrounding areas can be put on alert, including having extra people on duty. Emergency supplies of food, water, medicines, fuel and accommodation (tents) can be shipped into near by areas.

    This preparations can be planned in advance. For instance school bus drivers can be trained to pick up people in the predicted blast area and take them to safety.

    • amightywind

      Hospitals, ambulances and rescue workers in surrounding areas can be put on alert, including having extra people on duty.

      Sounds expensive. More fully benefited, unionized government workers. Not what the economy needs. Whatever happened to the idea of every man for himself?

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        Whatever happened to the idea of every man for himself?

        What part of “We the people…”, don’t you understand?

      • Robert G. Oler

        Whatever happened to the idea of every man for himself?”

        The United States was formed. RGO

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        That attitude is supposed to have pretty much died with the birth of Christianity but I’ve noticed that, push come to shove, people aren’t too keen on sticking to ethical principles that might inconvenience them, let alone endanger them.

      • E. P. Grondine

        Hi AW –

        The expense is close to zero, as those capabilities are already in place for handling other natural disasters.

        The problem since I started to cover this in 1997 has been getting the necessary warning times, and if you get an early enough warning time, then other options open besides simply cleaning up afterwards.

    • Coastal Ron

      A M Swallow said:

      There are valid civil defense responses to strikes by cosmic objects.

      That’s already in place at the national, state and local level. No doubt it would have to be ramped up to deal with a city/county-sized disaster, but realistically that doesn’t make much sense to do until it is clear there is a need.

      What is missing is A) a better warning system, and B) a system to mitigate or eliminate the threat.

      • A M Swallow

        Any ramping up of civil defense will have to happen within 2 to 3 days of the warning. That is too short a time period for a new plan to be written, so the plan will have to be written in advance.

        The USA may be well prepared but most of the world is not.

        • Coastal Ron

          A M Swallow said:

          The USA may be well prepared but most of the world is not.

          If this recent “event” hasn’t convinced them that they need to come up with a disaster plan, then I’m not sure what would.

      • E. P. Grondine

        Rubbish, CR, adequate warning times are not currently available. And please stop bringing up clean up plans from other types of smaller natural disasters. If you want to make a comparison, look at the Fukujima Daichi clean-up.

    • DCSCA

      There are valid civil defense responses to strikes by cosmic objects. The strike area could be evacuated. We’ve been through this scare for decades. ‘Duck and cover’ drills and so on. Commies aren’t a threat, al Quida doesn’t spook us so now Americans are fearing a rain of rocks from God himself as a new theat to arm up against. Sheesh, America can’t exist without a bad guy someplace to fear. The place to disuss and plan a planetary response to a planetary threat in the United Nations, not the United States Congress.

      • E. P. Grondine

        DCSCA, as B612 points out, there is a UN role, but this is not it.

        Why is it that I have to remind some people again and again and again that the Congress already decided otherwise, and those conversations have already been held, resulting in legislation?

        Exactly what kind of mental malfunctioning causes them to constantly deny the facts before them?

        Is there one type of malfunction, or several different ones that these people are suffering from?

  • E. P. Grondine

    Hi all –

    People generally think what they want to think, and believe what they want to believe, until the facts become undeniable. I want to deal with some of the common misconceptions concerning impact events and planetary defense here.

    First off, impact is a real hazard, and not an imaginary one.
    Peoples living in our area of the solar system have been severely affected by impacts over time.

    Second, we have the technologies to deal with this hazard.

    Third, using cost benefit analysis, it makes sense to do so.

    Forth, the general operational requirements for passive impact civil defense are 45 minutes warning of impact center for the smallest ones (take cover, don’t get hit by broken glass) and 3 to 4 days for bigger ones (get the hell out of the way and return afterwards).

    Fifth, there is not nothing we can do about it.

    Six, to my knowledge manned Mars flight plays absolutely no role in planetary defense, aside from the program of manned flight to an asteroid President Obama proposed.

    Seven, while other cheaper systems provide some coverage, the best detection system possible is the CAPS system.

  • yg1968

    I disagree with most of the comments. I think that this is exactly the kind of stuff that NASA needs to be doing. Spending on space is hard to justify unless you make an argument that it is necessary for the long term survival of our species. NASA’s job is only to identify and track the objects.

  • vulture4

    The National Aeronautics and Space Act clearly delegates to NASA developing of spacecraft and study of extraterrestrial objects. NASA should first of all write a Space Act Agreement with B612 and provide at least some support for an infrared telescope in solar orbit near the orbit of Venus, which is what is needed to spot smaller and more distant objects on earth-approaching trajectories. The meteor which hit in Russia could not possibly have been detected by ground-based scopes since it approached from the sunward direction and was never visible in the night sky. NASA also has reasonable experience in establishing international space programs. Once the object is detected, if it is near earth and can only be deflected with a nuclear missile fired at short notice, then DOD would be the logical choice of lead agency. If it is years from collision and can be deflected with a “gravity tractor” probe, then NASA (and probably JPL) would be in a better position to do the work. NASA has also been pretty successful in calculating and updating asteroidal orbits. Since the whole world is involved, all nations with the resources should be invited to participate.

  • A M Swallow

    A world wide network of observation satellites are going to need ground stations. The main space nations – USA, Europe, Russia, China and India are in the Northern Hemisphere. Ground stations in South America and Africa can be used to balance the one in Australia.

    There are likely to be significant political and diplomatic problems in deciding where to put these ground stations. The local politicians will see them as pork. The technicians to run them may come from abroad but their guards and cleaners can be recruited locally.

  • wodun

    The country has already flushed this event down the memory hole like Democrat protesters behavior during the Bush years. (Way to sneak some snark in huh?)

    Who is responsible the UN, NASA, the DOD, or the EPA?

    Isn’t there some guy who posts here all the time grumbling about the need for a Space Guard?

    A better argument would be who would fund, staff, and control the Space guard the USA, a coalition, or the UN?

    Surprised no one brought up a Space Guard.

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