How well are we prepared to deflect city-obliterating space rocks hurtling toward Earth? Well, NASA head Charles Bolden told Congress yesterday, "if it's coming in three weeks, pray."
Bolden's spiritual guidance came as part of a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on U.S. efforts to prevent asteroid and meteor-related catastrophe, one that involved quite a bit of finger-pointing at lawmakers who expect NASA to be able to find a needle in the deep-space haystack before it comes crashing into one of our cities -- on a tight budget.
When Republican Representative Bill Posey of Florida asked Bolden what NASA could do to ward off a hypothetical asteroid set to collide with Earth in three weeks' time, he shot back: "The reason I can't do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off." Back in February, meteorite researchers told PopSci that with current techniques, the chances of spotting something like Russia's meteorite in advance are dismal.
The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 stipulated that NASA detect, track and catalog 90 percent of all Near-Earth Objects greater than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. The agency has yet to reach this goal -- they've only cataloged an estimated 10 percent, although they believe they've found 95 percent of objects greater than one kilometer in diameter. (The Russian meteorite was an estimated 17 meters across.)
Bolden reminded the committee that "the probability of any [Near-Earth Object] impacting the Earth anytime in the next 100 years is extremely remote," but said that small objects like the Russian meteorite "will always be difficult to detect and provide adequate warning."
He ripped into the committee for not providing adequate funding to make better progress on detecting smaller objects. "Our estimate right now is at the present budget levels it will be 2030 before we're able to reach the 90 percent level as prescribed by Congress," he said, according to Space.com. "You all told us to do something, and between the administration and the Congress, the bottom line is the funding did not come." Anyone got a penny for poor NASA?
The hearing also featured statements from the head of the Air Force Space Command, Gen. William Shelton, and John Holdren, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Shelton shared his own budgetary concerns, saying his command is "clearly less capable under sequestration."
Holdren did not have a lot of hopeful news on the killer-asteroid-detection front, either. In his congressional statement, he said "Specifically, with our current or near-future capabilities, both on the ground and in space, it is unlikely that objects smaller than 100 meters in diameter on collision courses with the Earth will be detected with greater than weeks of advance warning – a matter of some concern since the larger objects in this range could be city-destroyers."
Holdren called for international cooperation for planetary defense, because hey, we can't be expected to save the Earth alone. Not in this economy, at least.
We spend more money annually on air conditioning our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan than NASA's entire budget. To say there isn't money for this very important program is a ridiculous statement.
NASA should stop chasing life on Mars for billions of dollars and try helping life on earth. We are on short fuse that needs all our resources concentrated here not somewhere out in the solar system. The cost benefit ratio does not hold water.
I like the idea that the world works together for the defense of our planet. Those developing countries are spending billions of dollars doing what's already been done. Why not work together instead of wasting money and time that could be spent on any number of useful or amazing projects. Not to mention the collaboration on these sorts of projects would help bring the developed and developing worlds closer together.
Or religious organizations could pay property tax and we could easily fund missions to both find threats and eliminate them if need be.
For those who ask for free money, there is never enough.
An asteroid crashes into Earth destroying all but one human. This one human gets picked up by aliens and the aliens ask him, "Why did your species not deter the asteroid? You had the technology, the manpower, the willpower, what happened?" The man replied, "No one would pay for it".
Yea! But what a party, prior to it hitting, WOOO HOOO!
Is this something people actually worry about on a daily basis? (Getting hit by astroids I mean, not the probed by aliens part)
stupid spell check, I meant to say *asstroids :)
America's best defense against an asteroid impact is simple statistics. The US continent only comprises about 10% of the earth's total surface area. And when all of the factors are considered such as earth's rotation, the orbital path of earth, the trajectory of most asteroids within our solar system, etc., it is extremely remote that an asteroid will impact the US territory.
I think a large asteroid impact would be good for Earth and most life on it.
Question: What technology do we have that could potentially move that much mass in such a short amount of time, considering that we don't even see them until they're nearly upon us?
Ideas about how to affect any change in trajectory are immediately subject to what resources we'd need... Obviously we need something, or many things in space... the only way not to get anything into space is by rocket. How many rockets would be needed to put an effective asteroid deterrent in orbit?
We do not have the chemical energy technology required. We just don't, folks. Religious people will probably refuse the expense, because God is looking out for them...
I think we should hold a world wide-prayer session to see if we can convince God to stop the next total solar eclipse from happening.
Every Sunday, from now until August 21, 2017, churches everywhere should pray for the moon to drift out of alignment with the sun.
With the stakes as high as they are, I think God needs to show us that He CAN move a planetary body even if the planetary body in question isn't going to slam into the earth.
Faith is nice to have. But when the whole PLANET is at risk, I think God needs to reinforce that faith with a demonstration.
NASA needs to reroute all the money it is squandering looking for ET.
"Those developing countries are spending billions of dollars doing what's already been done. Why not work together instead of wasting money and time that could be spent on any number of useful or amazing projects."
Try working with them and see what happens.
I'm surprised at the shortsightedness of some of the comments on this story. It's taken 85 million years for life on Earth to evolve to a point where we can actually have some sort of say in our destiny in cosmological terms. Expeditions to Mars and the search for extraterrestrial life are the first steps in us becoming an extraterrestrial species.
I don't know how your retirement/stock portfolio looks, but I don't have all my money riding on a single stock or market segment because the risk is just too high. That being said, why would we willingly choose to gamble the future of humanity on the hope that nothing bad happens to our little blue marble and loose 85 million years worth of work?
Detect OK yes, but why. How did the New Orleans evacuation go? Now try it on say LA or NYC or Dallas. How much advance notice will we really get? Ok a few months that an asteroid will hit earth, a few weeks that it will hit northern hemisphere, a few days that it will impact X-Y location. And if you get it just a little wrong? Evacuate DC but it estimate is off 200 miles and hits NYC instead.
As for diverting, how about we “pass the hat” and see how much other nations are willing to contribute? Or will we only use this for our defense?
LoL this article is so funny!
Superstitious people always want religion to have more prominence, well here is your chance. lol
May god's will be done.
Hopefully the disaster will hit a very religious population, as they so often do. lol
In Rendezvous with Rama (highly recommended reading), that's exactly what happened- a meteor wiped most of Italy off the map and tore the Mediterranean a new one. After the massive loss of lief and culture the world came together and set up a massive asteroid monitoring and detection system, leading to research stations on the moon, Mars, Mercury, and a couple of Jupiter's moons- which all eventually evolved into colonies. In any case, it took about 1/6 of the world's population being directly impacted for anything to happen.
Sure this is fiction, but this is more than likely what is going to take for humanity to move beyond LEO- and that's the tragedy of it all.
The cheapest solution is a giant ship packed with tiny and cheap mapping satellites. send it up, disperse tiny mappers in all directions, crowdsource some funding, and give a share to the people who fund it based on how much metal is found on their asteroids their funds discovered. it becomes not only practically free, but profitable. even sales of the maps to mineral companies can be very profitable.
dkella There has never been a shortage of good ideas.
The problem is the people of Earth truly believe they have more important things to think about. And who are we to dictate other peoples priorities.
Therefore I think a "Noah's Ark" rescue plan has a better chance of success, where only those interested in being saved are asked to contribute.
After all a strong survival instinct and intelligence are what we need to successfully colonize space.
Do we really want to drag billions of ignorant freeloaders into space against their will?
It would be a great way to get these people to opt out of Earth's future.
Killert, most people love money, and altruism. A noah's ark is a nice idea, but not what i was talking about. I was merely suggesting that preventing asteroid impacts could be done practically, and profitably. Before people can successfully colonize space, we need to solve the bigger issues at home. Plus it is prohibitively expensive to ship raw materials to space from earth, to colonize , you need the metals in space, and a way of mapping them. People's priority will be to preserve the planet , then to expand outwards. The best way to free up funds for space exploration is to eliminate war and poverty, mostly by westernizing 2nd and 3rd world countries. Once a country westernizes, the birth rate falls, and you don't have to worry about "billions of ignorant freeloaders".
I think the bigger concern is that the mining of asteroids will change orbits, and produce more impacts, increasing risks to earth.
We have already found through independent means that the best defense against asteroids is a bunch of little white arrowhead looking spacecraft with more in firepower than in thruster capability. Our best pilots should be given the craft that have shields. They should have to earn them.