Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Community News Network

February 15, 2013

Slate: NASA must do more to prepare for catastrophic asteroids

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Yes, the risk of impact is low. However, the U.S. government spends plenty of money guarding against the prospect of other low-probability events. Despite evidence that full-body scanners neither work as well, nor are as safe, as claimed, the TSA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on them, against the low probability that someone would try and smuggle something nefarious onto an airplane that previous security measures would have missed. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the Pentagon, the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy, and the Department of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, among other government agencies, collectively spend billions annually countering the very low-probability event of nuclear terrorism. None of these events, however horrific, have the potential to cause damage on the scale that a celestial body impacting Earth could. Only a full-scale nuclear war with Russia might approach the damage of a large asteroid.

It is far easier to quantify the risk from asteroids that have already been tracked than from something as nebulous as terrorism. The Near Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is doing an admirable job of estimating impact risk of currently known PHAs. But there are also the unknown unknowns. A report last year from NASA estimated that only 20 to 30 percent of PHAs have been found. It is entirely possible that tomorrow, or next year, or five years from now, an astronomer will find an object on a collision course with Earth.

However, if we have learned anything in the past several decades of space operations, it is that it is extremely difficult to throw together something at the last minute. Developing all of the technological infrastructure for something like a gravitational tractor will take years. Even if we had one sitting in Florida ready to be launched, such a tractor would also take years to do its work. The earlier such a device could be sent up, the better it could alter the trajectory of an incoming asteroid.

By the time we see the next bullet coming, it might be too late.

Konstantin Kakaes is a fellow at the New America Foundation.

Text Only
Community News Network
Marketplace Marquee
Parade
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence NYPD Chief Calls for 'use of Force' Retraining VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress Bush: Don't Worry, Sugarland Isn't Breaking Up US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Holder Urges Bipartisanship on Immigration Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball US Airlines Cancel Israel Flights Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Crash Victims' Remains Reach Ukraine-held City Diplomatic Push Intensifies to End War in Gaza Cat Fans Lap Up Feline Film Festival Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice
Graduation 2014