House Science Committee to NASA: Are You Prepared to Track and Deflect Space Objects?
February 22, 2013 • 11:31AM

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), former vice-chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, released a Feb. 20 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, asking, in light of the close pass of Asteroid 2012 DA 14 to Earth, and the meteor which exploded over Russia, if NASA were prepared to track such objects and protect Earth.

"This devastation [in Russia—ed.] serves as a blunt reminder of the dangers that cosmic objects pose to human safety and wellbeing. The likelihood of a catastrophic event may be low, but the consequences are sufficiently dire to warrant preparation... Locating and tracking these objects is clearly just the first step in preparedness. The ability to eliminate the threat of an asteroid or meteor impacting earth, colliding with the Moon, or disrupting our space-oriented ocmmunications and scientific equipment could be vital..."

Therefore, Sensenbrenner requests that NASA respond to the following questions by March 20:

"1) Please explain the current arrangement for tracking cosmic objects. To what degree of certainty are the objects which pose a threat to Earth being monitored? What type of coordination is occurring on an international scale?

2) What shortcomings are currently present in NASA's ability to accurately track and predict cosmic objects which may pose a threat to Earth, the Moon, our satellites, and other space-oriented apparatus?

3) How achievable are current NASA plans designed to eliminate the threats posed by cosmic objects on a collision course with Earth?

4) How much lead time is necessary between identifying a threat to Earth and its neutralization employing the current NASA strategies?"

On Feb. 15, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), current vice-chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, issued a statement immediately after the meteor explosed over Russia and injured 1,000 people. "This should serve as a wake-up call," he said. Rohrabacher is a long-time supporter of cooperation with the Russians on defense of Earth, and introduced a bill on this subject in 2007.

Rohrbacher said that while the close pass of Asteroid 2012 DA14 was anticipated and observed as it passed by Earth, "Unfortunately, we didn't see the [meteor] that exploded over Russia until it happened. We have been spending millions to find and track asteroids and comets, but the indications are that this was so small that we aren't even looking for objects of this size. What concerns me even more, however, is that fact that we have no plan that can protect the Earth from any comet or asteroid. So, even if we find one that will hit us, we might not be able to deflect it... We must protect ourselves, and the planet, from this clear danger. As Vice-chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, I'm working with the Chairman (Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX) to expedite a hearing on planetary protection from these 'near Earth objects' as soon as we can."

It is known that the Committee hopes to hold such a hearing in the range of 6 weeks from now.

The ability of NASA and other international space agencies dealing with these threats is taken up in depth in the February 20th Weekly Report.