Space threats double feature in Congress next week

The House Science Committee has rescheduled the hearing on “Threats from Space: A Review of U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors, Part 1” for Tuesday, March 19, at 10 am. The hearing was planned for March 6 but postponed because of a threatened snowstorm that, as it turned out, failed to drop significant snow on Washington. The same roster of witnesses as originally announced—Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren, Air Force Space Command commander Gen. William Shelton, and NASA administrator Charles Bolden—will testify on Tuesday.

The Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee is following suit with a hearing of its own on the topic of “space threats” at 10 am on Wednesday, March 20, titled “Assessing the Risks, Impacts, and Solutions for Space Threats”. This hearing features a different set of witnesses, including Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary sciences division; Ed Lu, chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation; Richard DalBello, vice president of Intelsat General; and Joan Johnson-Freese, professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

26 comments to Space threats double feature in Congress next week

  • Nothing gets a Congresscritter’s juice flowing more than the chance to say “boo” to a fearful electorate.

  • John A. Kotick

    These are important discussions. We have seen two significant events in the last few weeks that should bring the seriousness of this issue to the public’s attention. An educated and prepared electorate can support policies that are thoughtful and important. Let’s not dismiss this discussion as a scare tactic when the potential for significant harm and worldwide damage are real.

    • Grandpa Dave

      No… The POTUS wants to concentrate on proving the global warming saga so space treats will have to wait.

      • common sense

        You are mistaking “proving” with “educating”. I know semantics… No big deal.

        By the way what is a “space treat”? Cookie from space? Or one of those astronaut pouch food we find at the NASA store?

        I know. I know. Old age and all.

  • Coastal Ron

    Wow, one of the few times I’ve seen a witness list that didn’t have fluff added. These people look like they can provide rational answers, even to clueless questions.

    Will anything happen based on this hearing? Not sure, but if anything does get done, it likely will be something led by the Air Force Space Command as an internal effort.

  • John, my hope is that the result will be to focus the attention on where it needs to be — the earlier detection of incoming asteroids in to 20-40 meter range.

    Below 20 meters – they likely won’t kill anybody.
    20-40 maters – we might experience significant, unexpected loss of life.
    40-500 meters – they are large enough, we are detecting them with the 2+ days necessary for evacuation.
    Above 500 meters or so – we know about such a large percentage of them, thereby allowing years of time for intervention.

    The other side of space security is our space assets being knocked out by an adversary. On this point, I think we are entirely vulnerable.

    • common sense

      “The other side of space security is our space assets being knocked out by an adversary. On this point, I think we are entirely vulnerable.”

      This comment baffles me.

      What adversary has the capability to take down our space assets? How would they do that?

      If you think there would be some form of ASAT used in your scenario I think you’re very, very wrong.

      Now if you say that comm-links to space assets might be compromised that is a very different story but this vulnerability most likely involves a lot more than space assets. Indeed the ability to jam or otherwise terminate a comm-link to our space assets is possibly a lot cheaper and less detrimental to your assumed adversary. Who likes space debris anyway?…

      Then again. What does that have to do with NEO mitigation?

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Doug –

      What is the definition of insanity?
      Doing the same thing over and over again
      and expecting a different outcome.

      In any case, one more time:

      While the asteroid impact hazard is pretty small,
      the comet and comet fragment impact hazard is significant.

      As the whole of this is one of the most sordid and disusting stories in the history of science, I am hoping that the derma will finally stop.

  • Grandpa Dave

    Bruce Willis and his oil drillers should attend the hearing. They have been through this once before.

  • James

    The SSC hearings will be a great opportunity to see up close how Congress reacts to a private endeavor that has the similar goals, i.e. the testimony of Ed Lu, CEO B612 Foundation. I wonder if they’ll try to meddle in his efforts, or use him as an example of what NASA should be doing.

    Will Holdren/Bolden say ‘things are fine, we’re on it, even though we are cancelling any travel to conferences that would get us smarter on the issue’, or will they take this as an opportunity for a money grab?


    • James

      Typo: SCC, not SSC hearings.

    • common sense

      Nothing will happen. Or…

      After all the meteor/ites last month flew over and landed in Russia.

      And as I am sure you know meteor/ites are not welcome in the US. However we will reinforce our border laws to make sure none of them illegally enters our territory! So in the end maybe, just maybe DHS will see a slight budget increase or possibly the House will vote to increase the DoD budget to $25T yes T as in trillions! In case we need to invade Switzerland. It is a well known fact that Swiss own weapons of NEO destruction. And gold.

      I may be wrong though and someone from AL (Go Chargers!) may suggest to use the SLS core stage as a tug to capture and drag them asteroids away from the US. In such a case the core stage will be fitted with propulsion and guidance systems (wink wink – DB9 maybe wrong after all). And that would make the SLS the most important geopolitical tool in our arsenal. Ever. No. Seriously. Then Congress will ask NASA for a report and to modify the SLS accordingly with an approximate budget decrease of another $1B/yr. yes decrease since “qui peut le plus peut le moins”. Indeed NASA did “le plus” when they landed Buzz Aldrin on the Moon and have sent since an entire colony of astronauts back and forth to LEO. The report will of course be refuted by an independent Booz Allen study requested by NASA that will show that a suborbital Virgin Galactic SS-2 fitted with a long enough rope can do the job as well as NASA’s SLS for 1/1000th the cost. SpaceX will then react and send their first sub-obital Dragon finally mellowing their critics.

      See what I mean?

      Anyway. Just my 2 cents.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        Funny stuff.

        • common sense

          With sequestration I may have to change job. So I am considering a sit-up (too old to stand) comic gig based on Congress space policies. Enough materials but limited audience I am afraid.


          I may run for Congress.

          We’ll see what pan out.

          Thanks by the way.

          • Grandpa Dave

            How about “Build Missiles for Food” similar to the guy with a sign saying “Will Work for Food”?

            • common sense

              I realize there is a growing market there but I really, really don’t want to move to Pyongyang.

              And there probably isn’t that much food there anyway.

  • Place your wagers now on:

    (1) Who will be the first member of each chamber to suggest SLS be used to combat asteroids, and

    (2) How long into the meeting it will take for the first mention of SLS.

    • Bennett In Vermont


      (1) Wolf in the House, because it’s obvious that asteroids are sneaky, just like the red menace.

      (1a) Nelson in the Senate because he likes to say “really big rocket”.

      (2) ~45 minutes for each.

      $10 via paypal if your rep picks beat mine or your time pick is closer to the actual time, kinda like “Ice out on Joe’s Pond” if you get my meaning. We’ll work it out.

  • Robert G. Oler

    At the start of the hearing they should play the movie Green Slime…RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Hey, I actually watched that movie recently! Last year or so it was on TMC or AMC, as part of some series. Man o man that brings back Saturday morning memories. And considering it was 1968, the production values were pretty good… until the space monsters show up. That’s always the downfall with pre-digital monsters, which is why Ridley Scott didn’t show his alien much in the movie Alien.

    But to the topic at hand, I don’t expect much out of this hearing, since any “solution” would likely cost big bucks. And since the “problem” wasn’t in our backyard, ignoring it is pretty easy for now. But it is heartening to see that at least they will look into it.

    • common sense

      “But it is heartening to see that at least they will look into it.”

      I like your optimism but I will not even give them the benefit of the doubt.

      My suspicion is more like some staff said “hey people we have an empty time slot any idea what we might do?”.

      So then they all retreated to one expensive DC restaurant with SPA, fed on an obnoxiously expensive meal with tax-payer dollars. Some even got a massage at the SPA- go figure. And after some well deserved beers and CA wines – after all CA is socialist but they make better wine than TX or AL or FL for that matter, and who would go for a French wine anyway? So as I was saying, after some well deserved drinks and a little buzz in their heads they realized something went kaboom recently. They just could not remember what it was so they called up Bobby Jindal but no, the levees were still up and NOLA was still all destroyed as it should be, so the noise and light show – commonly referred to shock and awe – did not come from over there. Then some young and pretty staff aid, 20-something of course – we all know Congress do all those things they do with legally above-age staffers – so said staffer whose uncle has a friend’s cousin dealing with some russian oil tycoon remembered the recent videos on youtube. Even though at first they all thought it was a re-entering Soyuz. Or Dragon. So anyway. When they all came off their buzz they had signed the paperwork for the hearings. And the credit card bill for the expenses that was rightfully sent to the Las Vegas bureau of the GSA.

      Sounds credible? No. More proof? Well it’s just like Hollywood. One studio came up with Deep Impact – the House – so the other major came up with Armageddon – the Senate. They really could not organize something together since there is all these tax-payer’s dollars they need to spend or said dollars would have to be used on reducing deficit and all this nonsensical stuff is already taken care of by sequestration.

      Anyway. I hope I am making sense in clarifying the inner workings of the thought process – or lackthereof – of our dear and popular and effective Congress.

      Thank you Congress. You in the House and Senate really rock. Which is appropriate considering the subject at hand. You know. Rock…

  • common sense

    Sorry off topic.

    But since we are talking threats I thought I would say that the great inquisitor struck again (

    Not that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty which so 18th Century. Who the eff cares?

    No. I think we should all blame NASA and shut down the centers especially in light that the system worked, or may have worked, even though we don’t know since well there’s been no trial yet.

    But there obviously are serious security breaches at NASA. We must, you know, cry… wolf, just in case. And if possible ruin one’s life even though there only is allegation at this time.

    Sorry Jeff off-topic but still a threat to our country. It’s just that the threat is not necessarily the one coming from the heavens.

    • Jeff Foust

      Sorry, but this is off-topic for this post. Please take discussion of this topic elsewhere. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

  • Coastal Ron

    I see there is an article on about the hearing in the House. Some interesting tidbits:

    White House science adviser John Holdren noted that the funding devoted annually to cataloging potentially threatening asteroids has risen from $5 million to more than $20 million over the past couple of years. But even at that level, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden estimated that it would take until 2030 to catalog 90 percent of the near-Earth objects between 140 meters and 1 kilometer in width, as mandated by Congress.

    “Maybe we can help you out with the budget. Don’t know,” Smith replied. He said “we need to find ways to prioritize NASA’s projects.”

    – – – –

    Holdren estimated the cost of an asteroid-hunting space telescope at $500 million to $750 million, and said it could reduce the congressionally mandated survey time to six to eight years. Following through on the Obama administration’s plan to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 would cost about $2 billion a year, Holdren said.

    – – – –

    Lawmakers repeatedly asked how much advance warning would be required to deflect a threatening asteroid, and were repeatedly told that it would take years. Shelton said that if time was limited, “probably nuclear energy is what we’re talking about.” But even a nuclear-armed mission to blast an asteroid would require lots of lead time. One lawmaker asked Bolden about the strategy for dealing with an Earth-threatening asteroid that was discovered with three weeks’ warning.

    “If it’s coming in three weeks … pray,” Bolden said.

  • common sense

    “If it’s coming in three weeks … pray,” Bolden said.“ Wow if this is the case I wish Bolden had more often the opportunity to express himself.

    Now if “nuclear power” is on the table then it might be wise to combine exploration with NEO mitigation. Indeed and this is a sincere question, what if we were able to develop a CASIMR like system that might be hooked to an asteroid? Would it be helpful? What would be the power requirement for such a system to work vs time when we know of the threat?

    I know nothing, or not enough, of orbital mechanics and NEOs and this kind of propulsion to see whether this is feasible. But why not? Anyone?

    Before blasting anything we might think of more exotic solutions. If you blast a meteor how will you insure irradiated fragments don’t land on Earth. And what about the size vs the nuclear power necessary to do an effective job. There should be different tiers of response. Not one do it all nonsense a la Constellation.

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