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.”
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As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."