United Nations Takes First Big Step in Defending Earth From Killer Asteroids

Astronauts say we’re not equipped to protect the planet from hazardous rocks and impending apocalypse. Enter the General Assembly.

This artist's animation illustrates a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star the same age and size as our Sun.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Lucia Graves
Oct. 28, 2013, 12:34 p.m.

In Feb­ru­ary, a met­eor ex­ploded over Chelyab­insk, Rus­sia, with­in 17,000 miles of Earth’s sur­face. It was spot­ted not by NASA or any of the world’s oth­er space agen­cies but by an am­a­teur as­tro­nomer in Spain, who was power­less to stop the 150-foot-wide rock from ex­plod­ing over the Ur­al Moun­tains. It shattered win­dows across roughly 650,000 square feet of land. More than 1,000 people were in­jured, mostly by shattered glass.

Al­though just a few hours of no­tice could have helped res­id­ents of Chelyab­insk migh­tily, no ob­ser­vat­ory on Earth was equipped to de­tect it, even though the tech­no­logy is read­ily avail­able. For years as­tro­nauts such as Ed Lu and Rusty Sch­weick­art, who cofoun­ded the private non­profit B612 Found­a­tion to hunt as­ter­oids, have pushed to de­vel­op early-warn­ing sys­tems for rogue as­ter­oids. Now, the United Na­tions is heed­ing the call.

Last week the Gen­er­al As­sembly ap­proved a set of meas­ures to pro­tect the plan­et from killer as­ter­oids. The U.N. is form­ing an “In­ter­na­tion­al As­ter­oid Warn­ing Group” for mem­ber na­tions to share in­tel­li­gence on po­ten­tially haz­ard­ous as­ter­oids, Sci­entif­ic Amer­ic­an re­ports. If a threat­en­ing space rock is de­tec­ted, the U.N.’s Com­mit­tee on the Peace­ful Uses of Out­er Space will help co­ordin­ate a mis­sion to de­flect it, launch­ing a space­craft to slam in­to the ob­ject be­fore it reaches Earth.

The move comes as one of the first steps sug­ges­ted by mem­bers of the As­so­ci­ation of Space Ex­plorers, a col­lec­tion of people in­ter­ested in de­flect­ing er­rant space rocks. “No gov­ern­ment in the world today has ex­pli­citly as­signed the re­spons­ib­il­ity for plan­et­ary pro­tec­tion to any of its agen­cies,” said Sch­weick­art, speak­ing at the Amer­ic­an Mu­seum of Nat­ur­al His­tory in New York City on Fri­day. “NASA does not have an ex­pli­cit re­spons­ib­il­ity to de­flect an as­ter­oid, nor does any oth­er space agency.”

An An­der­son Cooper seg­ment earli­er this month high­lighted the scale of the prob­lem: Sci­ent­ists say there are more than 1 mil­lion near-Earth ob­jects in space big enough to des­troy a city, but that they only know where 1 per­cent of them are. The ques­tion is what to do about it. While the ASE ad­voc­ates every na­tion del­eg­at­ing re­spons­ib­il­ity for as­ter­oid pre­pared­ness to an in­tern­al agency, Sch­weick­art’s or­gan­iz­a­tion, the B612 Found­a­tion, isn’t wait­ing for a gov­ern­ment-fun­ded pro­gram.

The group is plan­ning its own in­frared space tele­scope, the Sen­tinel, which will launch in 2017 or 2018 if the money can be raised in time. The de­vel­op­ment and launch is ex­pec­ted to cost $450 mil­lion, an am­bi­tious budget for a private or­gan­iz­a­tion.

Next ASE as­tro­nauts will ask the U.N. to set up a means for prac­ti­cing as­ter­oid de­flec­tion, so that we’re not re­li­ant on un­tried tech­no­lo­gies, should an emer­gency oc­cur. Speak­ing at Fri­day’s mu­seum event, Lu put it this way: “Chelyab­insk was bad luck,” he said. “If we get hit again 20 years from now, that is not bad luck — that’s stu­pid­ity.”

What We're Following See More »
LOFTY GOALS
White House Proposes New Tax Plan
16 hours ago
BREAKING

The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

Source:
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
1 days ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
SENATE JUDICIARY HEARING
Sally Yates to Testify on May 8
1 days ago
THE LATEST
MESSAGE TO PUTIN
U.S. To Conduct Exercises In Estonia
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. deployed "F-35 joint strike fighters" to Estonia on Tuesday. The "jets will stay in Estonia for several weeks and will be a part of training flights with U.S. and other NATO air forces." The move comes at a time of high tension between the U.S. and Estonia's neighbor, Russia. The two nations have been at odds over a number of issues recently, most of all being Vladimir Putin's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in light of Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people in the midst of a civil war.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login