Cong. Holt and Edwards Op-ed on Near-Earth Objects: "Surely Any Existential Threat to the Human Race Must Be Taken Seriously"
February 17, 2013 • 10:38AM

Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Donna Edwards (D-MD) published an op-ed in today's Washington Post, calling for increased funding for Near Earth Object (NEO) detection. Holt is a physicist and former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory; Edwards is the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee on space. Yesterday's two NEO events, they write, "underscore how crucial it is that nations know, quickly, what is falling from the sky and what, if any, dangers are posed."

They go through the factual specifics of the likelihood of different size rocks hitting the Earth, and note: "These threats are minuscule on a day-to-day basis, but surely any existential threat to the human race must be taken seriously." They complain that this area has been chronically underfunded, and say that "Washington should do more to establish an international warning system that can provide credible, near-instant information to countries across the globe." Besides the direct dangers of a hit, they note that an exploding meteor such as that which struck Chelyabinsk could well be confused with a nuclear attack, and lead to dangerous overreactions. "The damage that could occur if a nation were to misidentify a meteor explosion and launch a counterattack is chilling," they write.

Unfortunately, the two congressmen seem limited by Beltway pragmatism, and only call for detection and then disaster- planning, not any aggressive science-driver program to eliminate such dangers, of the sort coming from Russian circles around Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin. "Congress should continue to invest in day-to-day disaster planning," Holt and Edwards write. "We should make the investments necessary to track near-Earth objects and prepare for disasters of all kinds."