HomeScienceNASA cannot afford to fund "killer" Asteroid Hunt

NASA cannot afford to fund “killer” Asteroid Hunt

NASA Logo and Asteroid hitting earth

NASA and the Air Force are studying ways in which they can ward off a medium-sized asteroid that is expected to come within 18,000 miles of Earth in the year 2029. This very asteroid has an extremely small chance of crashing into our planet in 2036, and may prove to be devastating. However, NASA has realized that there might not be enough money to fund the task. Thus, there is a possibility that the task may not get down.

According to a report that was previewed on Monday at a Planetary Defense Conference in Washington, the cost to locate at least 90% of the 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets by 2020 would be about $1 billion.

According to Simon “Pete” Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, the United States already has the technology needed to send a mission to deflect an asteroid such as Apophis, but the Bush administration hasn’t requested money to pay for it.

Apparently, these asteroids are bigger than 460 feet in diameter. They can be a threat even if they don’t hit Earth because if they explode while close enough- an event caused by heating in both the rock and the atmosphere- the devastation from the shockwaves is still immense. The explosion alone could have with the power of 100 million tons of dynamite that is enough to devastate an entire state.

NASA is already tracking bigger objects, at least 3,300 feet in diameter that could possibly wipe out most life on Earth. But even that search which has spotted 769 asteroids and comets. However, none of these happen to be on course to hit Earth. The search is already behind schedule and is supposed to be complete by the end of next year.

“We don’t yet have the resources to do much about this,” Worden said. NASA’s budget includes $4 million a year to study the asteroid threat.

Edward Lu, a former astronaut at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, estimated that the cost of a gravity tug would be about $300 million. He said the gravitational force of a 1-ton robotic spacecraft orbiting just ahead of the asteroid would gradually pull the space rock out of Earth’s way.

Other methods, such as bombing the asteroid, might break it into smaller pieces that could be even more dangerous to our planet, Lu said.

NASA needs to do more to locate other smaller, but still potentially dangerous space bodies. While an Italian observatory is doing some work, the United States is the only government with an asteroid-tracking program, NASA said.

One solution would be to build a new ground telescope solely for the asteroid hunt, and piggyback that use with other agencies’ telescopes for a total of $800 million. Another would be to launch a space infrared telescope that could do the job faster for $1.1 billion. But NASA program scientist Lindley Johnson said NASA and the White House called both those choices too costly.

A cheaper option would be to simply piggyback on other agencies’ telescopes, a cost of about $300 million, also rejected, Johnson said. “The decision of the agency is we just can’t do anything about it right now,” he added.