Astronomers Go On Offensive For Anti-Asteroid Programs
February 26, 2013 • 11:30AM

Although the messages delivered from past week's meeting in Vienna of the UN space organization UNOOSA were clear, they were still also rather polite, not reflecting the real anger building up among committed astronomers and other scientists over the fact that in spite of many initiatives in the past, there still is no real funding of projects to detect and destroy dangerous asteroids. Some astronomers have chosen a more aggressive language, to make their case, though:

In an interview with Voice of Russia on Feb. 22, Vladimir Zamodurov of the radio telescope RT22 in Pushchino (operated by the Astrocosmic Center of the Lebedev Institute for Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences) said, "Yes. You see, in the 1990s everybody was glad that the Cold War was over and thought now mankind could spend the money for something global, instead of wars. The scientists said let us build an asteroid protection shield. And indeed, for two or three years we believed that now, with no global adversaries around any longer, all financial streams would flow from the military sphere into the protection against asteroids. Had that occurred, we would live in a happier and more secure world today." Zamodurov is one of the co-designers of the Russian RadioAstron space telescope launched in July 2011.

Another example is Florian Freistetter, an Austrian astronomer who worked, among other posts, at the observatory in Dreberg, Saxony, who now is a freelance science writer and contributes to a blog (scilog.com) , in which he wrote last week that it is highly intolerable that none of the primetime TV talk shows, or other "science" broadcasts, has had the Chelyabinsk event of Feb. 15 on its agenda, instead gave ample coverage for mediocre issues and other business as usual reports. This, he charges, falls into the general picture that there are more cooking shows on German TV than science programs, and that in England, more television broadcasts are devoted to science discussions and programs on such issues as asteroids than anywhere in Germany.

Furthermore, German space engineer and astronomer Michael Khan who has worked on the design of numerous deep space missions in the past years, wrote in another blog (scienceblogs.de) last week that the fact that it is still not entirely clear to scientists what really went on in Chelyabinsk, and how big that meteor was and what its real impact was, shows that still today, not much is known about such space bodies. Many asteroids have been spotted and registered, but what their actual size or exact orbit is, remains a guess in many cases. The Chelyabinsk meteor may have had one of those extremely eccentric orbits on its journey through the Solar System that would require much better monitoring systems to spot such objects in time.

Observatories, space monitoring by satellites alone will not suffice, Khan writes: what is required, are manned missions to several of these asteroids, also to find out what they are actually made of, and each of these manned missions would be like the Moon-landing program of the last century. And technologies to destroy or deflect such asteroids must be developed. If mankind wants to live safe from such space attacks, it has no other alternative to launching such missions, therefore let's begin now, Khan concludes.