Friday, April 8, 2011

Save the planet: task force recommends the creation of a planetary defense coordination office to combat asteroids, 11.03.10

A recent report was submitted to the NASA Advisory Council by the Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense that called on Congress to allocate additional funds above and beyond NASA’s annual budget for planetary defense. The threat? Asteroids.

An artist's rendition of an asteroid crashing into Earth. Image credit:
The report recommends that NASA and the US government take steps toward establishing a Planetary Defense Coordination Office that would cooperate with other national governments for the deflection and/or destruction of asteroids that are on course to collide with Earth. In light of all of the natural disasters that seem to be plaguing Earth as of recent years, former astronaut Russell Schweickart says that “Happily, in the instance of asteroid impacts, this is a natural disaster which can be prevented.”

The task force made five recommendations to the Council that they should “Organize for Effective Action on Planetary Defense,” “Acquire Essential Search, Track, and Warning Capabilities,” “Investigate the Nature of the Impact Threat,” “Prepare to Respond to Impact Threats,” and “Lead U.S. Planetary Defense Efforts in National and International Forums.”

The projected start up cost of the project is $250-$300 million every year for the next decade. Annual operation costs after that are expected to be a comparatively minor $50-$75 million.

The program is intended to detect celestial bodies at least 240 feet wide and deflect them away from Earth, if their projected path places them on a collision course. The task force said the “driving philosophy” behind the program is to “find them early.” While the recommendations did say that the new Planetary Defense Coordination Office would be capable of detecting threats at least a decade before they are supposed to make contact with Earth, NASA and the U.S. government are not obligated to act on their recommendations.


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