Wednesday, August 12, 2009

NASA Lacking the Funding For Near Earth Asteroid Detection... Again.

Ever since the SpaceGaurd Survey Report from 1992, Congress has been screwing around with this issue and not putting the money where their mouth is. As I have complained about repeatedly here at Tman in Tennessee, NASA does not spend enough of it's annual $17 Billion budget on meeting the minimum standards that were set out in the original SpaceGaurd Survey from 1994. The SpaceGaurd Survey was mainly for detection of asteroids 1 Kilometer in diameter or larger. This same program was "upgraded" again in the the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, when Congress called on NASA to provide an analysis of alternatives to discover, track, catalogue, and determine the physical characteristics of NEOs equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter. The legislation also stipulated that NASA find 90 percent of all these NEOs within fifteen years.

In 2006, Congress requested that NASA give them an update on the state of NEO discovery and tracking efforts, which culminated in the Near Earth Object Congressional Hearings in November of 2007. I wrote about the hearings on this blog after they were concluded, and my analysis then is essentially the same as it was in 2004 when I started this blog, and also sadly enough absolutely nothing has changed.

Here's my analysis from 2007-

To sum up the hearings, I would say that we have somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the much needed argument for the continued funding of the Arecibo Observatory was made by all participants, and hopefully this will get some appropriations. As far as the Spacegaurd Suveys go, we are still behind on cataloging the big ones, and NASA's reps pretty much told Congress that they can't do what they were told to do as per the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, unless Congress.....tells them what to do. Fortunately, we have guys like Donald Yeomans and David Morrison around who are well aware of NASA's shortcomings, and are working around them to develop true answers like the folks at the B612 Foundation.

Next summer will be 100 years since the Tunguska impact. We have a long way to go before even pretending to think we could stop another impact as small as the Tunguska impact. And at $17 Billion I don't think we're getting our moneys worth from NASA in terms of protecting us from NEO's.

And if you're interested, since 2004 I've written several posts about this issue specifically, in terms of what NASA and Congress should be doing in regards to this issue.

Tman In Tennessee NASA NEO Posts

Check them out if you're interested.

Today the National Academy of Sciences released a report detailing the shortcomings of the NASA NEO programs.

NASA’s Asteroid Detection Programs Not Yet Meeting U.S. Goals

August 12 -- According to a new interim report from the National Research Council, NASA’s current near-Earth object surveys will not meet the congressionally mandated goal of discovering 90 percent of all objects over 140 meters in diameter by 2020. Funding for near-Earth object activities at NASA has been constrained, with most costs being met by funds from other programs. A final report will include findings and recommendations on detecting, characterizing, and mitigating the hazard of near-Earth objects.

Maybe someone will pay attention now? Based on the historical record, I have little faith that this report will do anything but restate the obvious, however more news about this issue is better than no news.

Along that same line, WIRED magazine posted a photo essay yesterday on Asteroid Impact Craters on Earth as seen from space-

By Betsy Mason
August 11, 2009
Asteroid impact craters are among the most interesting geological structures on any planet. Many other planets and moons in our solar system, including our own moon, are pock-marked with loads of craters. But because Earth has a protective atmosphere and is geologically active — with plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions, mostly relatively young oceanic crust, and harsh weathering from wind and water — impact structures don’t last long and can be tough to come by.

But on a few old pieces of continent, especially in arid deserts, the marks of asteroids have been preserved. One well-known example is our own Barringer crater, also known as Meteor Crater, in Arizona. The images here show some of the biggest, oldest and most interesting impact craters on the planet.

Here's one from just 50,000 years ago-

The Lonar crater in Maharashta, India is around 6,000 feet wide and 500 feet deep and contains a saltwater lake. Scientists determined the structure was caused by an asteroid through clues such as the presence of maskelynite, a glass that is only formed by extremely high-velocity impacts. The impact occurred around 50,000 years ago. This image was captured by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite. It is a simulated true-color image

Image: NASA, 2004

Again, for the umpteenth time, NOT IF BUT WHEN.