Lu: Good News and Bad News on Asteroid Defense

These photos show the relative size of three asteroids that have been imaged at close range by spacecraft. Mathilde (37 x 29 miles) (left) was taken by the NEAR spacecraft on June 27, 1997. Images of the asteroids Gaspra (middle) and Ida (right) were taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Image Credit:  NASA/JPL/NEAR and Galileo missions
These photos show the relative size of three asteroids that have been imaged at close range by spacecraft. Mathilde (37 x 29 miles) (left) was taken by the NEAR spacecraft on June 27, 1997. Images of the asteroids Gaspra (middle) and Ida (right) were taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1991 and 1993, respectively. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL/NEAR and Galileo missions)

Statement by Dr. Ed Lu
Co-founder and CEO, B612 Foundation

“Last week brought both good and bad news for the field of planetary defense and the worldwide effort to protect the Earth from large and dangerous asteroid impacts.

The good news is that the National Near Earth Object Preparedness Strategy report from the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) presented a list of strategic goals to address the risk of large asteroid impacts.

B612 Foundation wholeheartedly agrees with these goals, in particular the first goal: “Finding NEOs as early as possible is the first priority for planetary defense, in order to give adequate time to make decisions and implement courses of action. This fact must be stressed: the earlier a NEO threat is detected, the better the emergency response to the threat will be. However, accurately predicting their orbits and understanding their structure and composition are equally critical to assessing the NEO impact hazard and how to best respond to a NEO impact threat.“

The fact that the U.S. government is taking this threat seriously is of course a good first step, but implementation steps will not be known until a later “Action Plan” is released.

The bad news was that NASA announced the winners of the Discovery Program mission selection, and NEOCam, an infrared space telescope for finding and tracking Near-Earth Asteroids, was not chosen for flight. As stressed in the NSTC report issued last week, and advocated by B612, an infrared observatory would be a significant complement to the under construction Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at finding asteroids larger than 100 meters across.

Professor Roger Blandford, Stanford, summarized the problem well when he noted that: “planetary defense is currently treated as a scientific issue, and forced to compete with other science missions instead of being seen as a long-term imperative for the protection of humanity and an opportunity for the United States to provide international leadership on a globally important problem.“

About the B612 Foundation

B612 is an organization that works towards protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and informing and forwarding world-wide decision-making on planetary defense issues. B612 provides a non-governmental voice on the risks, options, and implications of asteroid data while advancing the technical means by which that data is acquired. We work to make interpretation of asteroid data open and accessible, and we serve as an informed source for an international community of policy makers and scientists who can best help to achieve these goals.

For more information on B612, visit: b612foundation.org