Calls grow for US to bolster defense against asteroid threat – The Madison Leader Gazette

Experts are sounding the alarm about the threat of asteroids to life on Earth — and warning that the United States does not have a clear plan to prevent catastrophe.

Though NASA says the odds are literally one in a millennium, no US agency is explicitly responsible if space rocks are headed our way.

“No one is tasked with mitigation,” former Air Force space strategist Peter Garretson, an expert in planetary defense told Politico. “Congress did put in law that the White House identify who should be responsible, but fully four subsequent administrations so far have blown off their request.”

“There are three million asteroids and we have not a freaking clue where they are and they are flying around us,” Danica Remy, president of the B612 Foundation told the website. Remy, whose foundation is working on a database to monitor near-earth objections said the current research has “barely made a dent” in mapping what’s out there.

The issue has resurfaced as NASA plans the first ever mission to test whether it can adjust the trajectory of a potentially devastating asteroid. The agency plans to hurl a rocket traveling at 16,000 miles per hour into the astroid Dimorphos.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test is scheduled for sometime after Nov 24. NASA has stressed that the asteroid system poses no threat to earth, and is being used purely as a testing ground.

No US agency is explicitly responsible if space rocks are headed our way.
MORGAN SETTE/AFP via Getty Images

“DART’s target asteroid is NOT a threat to Earth. This asteroid system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future,” read a press release announcing the test.

Chris Mattman, the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Post the agency often partnered with Space Force and Air Force on potential mitigation strategies and said any imminent impact scenario would likely involve “a whole of government effort” response.

He added that space issues were likely to get more top of mind for Americans as private industry moved into the area. Billionaire tech entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Sir. Richard Brandon both flew into space this year on their own privately funded vessels — with more civilian-faced flights planned.

Experts are warning that the United States does not have a clear plan to prevent catastrophe if an asteroid were to strike.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“With commercial space[flight] … taking a front seat over the next decade to the traditional long lasting flagship mission, space is going to get really crowded and space traffic management is a big deal,” Mattman said.

US disarray on the issue also has national security implications, with China ramping up investment into planetary defense. In November Chinese scientists published a paper calling for an “assembled kinetic impactor” to address the risk — potentially leapfrogging the US on the issue.

Some China hawks, however, said the planetary defense was moot and China should be free to knock itself out over the issue — if it wanted to.

“I don’t see a threat from that that is any bigger than the threats they already pose,” Jim Hanson, president of the Security Studies Group told The Post. “We’ve all got nukes. What else do you need?”


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Publish date : 2021-11-20 21:40:48

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