Committee Democrats Discuss Need to Detect and Prepare for Near-Earth Objects Smaller Than Currently Mandated

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013

image (Washington, DC) - Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held the second of two hearings on Threats from Space. The first hearing focused on government efforts in detecting, tracking, and monitoring near-Earth objects (NEOs). Today's hearing focused on private sector efforts. Testifying before the Committee were Dr. Ed Lu, Chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation; Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, Manager of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and Dr. Michael F. A'Hearn, Vice-Chair of the Committee to Review Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies at the National Research Council (NRC).

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement that she hoped to learn more about the survey for NEOs and about what would be involved in expanding it to search for smaller NEOs. She said, "It is clear from last month's hearing that there is still a lot of work to be done to track and characterize asteroids that could potentially impact the Earth. And that even relatively small asteroids could do significant damage if they hit a heavily populated area."

Witnesses and Democratic Members discussed international dialogue, emergency preparedness, communication with the public, and the need for examining potential mitigation approaches. They also expressed concern about the role private entities play in the detection and mitigation of asteroids.

Ms. Johnson said, "I want to better understand both the strengths and limits of NASA relying on private organizations such as B 612 for detection of potential Earth impacting asteroids. My problem is not with the efforts of such organizations to address what they see as an important problem. Instead, my concern is that we have reached a point where our government has to hope that non-governmental organizations will somehow do what the government should be doing but is apparently unwilling to pay for. However, if the protection of the planet is not an appropriate role for the federal government, I'm not sure what is."

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), said in her statement as prepared for the record, "We have heard how non-government entities are proposing to use their own funds to save the Earth by detecting, characterizing, and perhaps even deflecting asteroids. Some of these entities are driven by a noble cause, to save humanity and are banking on philanthropists to finance their efforts.Others, who are planning to mine asteroids to extract ore and minerals, see their efforts as useful for detection and characterization, since one needs to know where these asteroids are and what their composition is likely to be before a mining mission is chosen. Now, don't get me wrong. I think it's great if the government doesn't have to foot the entire bill for proposed missions and technologies. But what happens when something does not work, or when donations or investor contributions do not materialize? Is it prudent for the world to solely bank on the success of these non-government efforts? What happens when a private initiative is no longer an option? Would the government need to step in?"

Ms. Johnson also addressed the need to ensure that all of NASA's programs get the necessary funding, She said, "The President's just-released budget request proposes to invest in a number of asteroid-related initiatives. We will need to closely examine the President's proposals in the coming weeks to fully understand what is being proposed, so I'm not going to comment on them in any depth today. Instead, I will simply say that I deeply hope that whatever new initiatives are being proposed will be accompanied by adequate funding of their own rather than be funded by cannibalizing other important NASA programs. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will not give us sustainable and effective NASA programs, and I hope we will all resist the temptation to do so as we try to address the challenge posed by near Earth asteroids."

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