A cool video from the Near Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Unfortunately, the deflection technology, which they mention at the end, is not even in development. Protecting the Earth’s population from a possible global extinction event is not a goal whose value penetrates to politicians and wonks in DC.
Washington’s blindness to the asteroid threat can be seen in a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus. The report dismisses the value of NASA’s proposed asteroid mission with the following statement:
The committee has seen little evidence that a current stated goal for NASA’s human spaceflight program — namely, to visit an asteroid by 2015 — has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA’s own workforce, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community. Although asteroids remain important subjects for both US and international robotic exploration and study, on the international front, there appears to be continued enthusiasm for a mission to the Moon but not for an asteroid mission.
This statement is deeply flawed. NASA works for the American people, not its own workforce or the international community — and if the committee saw little evidence that the Americans find asteroids compelling, it simply wasn’t looking. Bookstores, documentaries, and Hollywood movies attest to widespread public interest in the asteroid-impact hazard.
Obviously, the NAS committee failed to make the connection between NASA’s manned asteroid mission and planetary defense. The committee implicitly assumes that asteroids are merely subjects of scientific study rather than natural hazards of potential resources. That is a common failing in the scientific community — and one reason why the NAS is the wrong organization to ask for recommendations on space policy. Of course, President Obama and NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden have failed to publicly make the connection as well. There is plenty of blame to go around here.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the future of human spaceflight — and perhaps the future of the human race — will depend on people outside of Washington, DC.