Monday, April 12, 2004

Astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Ed Lu on deflecting a NEA.........

I missed this Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space dealing with defense against asteroid impacts last week. But here it is for those interested.

Some excerpts-

"In summary, we faced the following facts:

1) Asteroid impacts with Earth have, do, and will continue to occur with devastating consequences to life. 2) Our detection program (the Spaceguard Survey) has produced a good statistical characterization of the overall threat and actual knowledge that at least 60% of the asteroids larger than 1 kilometer in diameter will not strike the Earth in the next 100 years. 3) Many impacts by asteroids less than 1 km in diameter, however, which occur hundreds of times more frequently than those over 1 kilometer, will cause unacceptable devastation at both local and regional levels. 4) The increasing capability of our detection programs in the next several years will result in a dramatic increase in the discovery rate of these smaller but very dangerous asteroids. 5) The media and the general public will become ever more aware of this threat and concerned that something should be done about it. 6) A known threat that can potentially destroy millions of lives AND can be predicted to occur ahead of time, AND prevented, cannot responsibly go unaddressed.

This inexorable logic led us to decide to take action and examine whether preventive measures could be taken to mitigate this threat, and if so, what specific course of action we would recommend.

The Challenge

It became immediately clear to us that the combination of advanced propulsion technologies and small space-qualified nuclear reactors, both operating in prototype form already, would be powerful enough, with reasonable future development, to deflect most threatening asteroids away from a collision with the Earth, given a decade or more of advance warning.


Sounds good so far......except for the "at least a decade of advanced warning" part. Once again, I reiterate, we are screwed if we get any less time than that to put together a mission. And this to me should add to the level of urgency concerning this issue.

The proposal-

"the most responsible course of action would be to mount a demonstration mission to a NEA (one of our choosing) which would accomplish two essential tasks; 1) gather critical information on the nature of asteroid structure and surface characteristics, and 2) while there, push on the asteroid enough to slightly change its orbit thereby clearly demonstrating to the public that humanity now has the technology to protect the Earth from this hazard in the future.

We furthermore determined that this demonstration mission could be done with currently emerging capabilities within 10-12 years.

We therefore adopted the goal of "altering the orbit of an asteroid, in a controlled manner, by 2015".


As I've stated before (and I need to put this in my astronomy links), the Deep Impact mission, will be experimenting with this capability in 2005, but once again, this is nowhere near the level of priority or funding encompassed within Nasa that it should be. I don't care what color the rocks are on Mars, or the composition of the moons of Uranus, until we figure out the asteroid issue permanently to the best of our capabilities. And we still need more funding for the various search programs currently scanning the skies for asteroids and other NEO's....

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