Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Proposed Commission for Planetary Defense: H.R. 5587 Makes Sense

"Congress Proposes Commission to Study Asteroid Impact Threat"
Space.com (July 19, 2010)

"Lawmakers are paying new attention to how best to shield Earth from a bad day - getting whacked by an asteroid or comet that has our planet in its cross-hairs.

"A new bill introduced to Congress proposes establishing a government-sponsored commission to study the threat of a major space rock collision with Earth and how prepared we are — as a country and a planet - to face such a danger.

"There is a growing choir of concern regarding Near Earth Objects, or NEOs – spotting them and dealing with any Earth-threatening gatecrashers...."

H.R. 5587, "To establish a United States Commission on Planetary Defense, and for other purposes," was introduced and referred to a House committee on June 23, 2010 (presumably the House Science and Technology).

The text, as it currently stands, of H.R. 5587 is online:The bill calls for a commission to:

"(1) determine capabilities of United States Government entities, nongovernment organizations, foreign governments and entities, and international bodies to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous Near Earth Objects (in this Act referred to as 'NEOs');

"(2) identify and evaluate roles and responsibilities of United States Government entities to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;

"(3) determine United States effectiveness in leading international efforts to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;

"(4) build upon United States Government and foreign analyses, studies, and assessments, without duplicating efforts, to determine current and required NEO characterization and mitigation capabilities;

"(5) identify and report on technology development required to provide effective planetary defense from dangerous NEOs; and

"(6) investigate and report to the President and Congress on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures that can be taken to provide planetary defense."
(H.R. 5587)

My hat's off to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, for introducing a bill like this so close to a midterm election. The Lemming doesn't have a political blog, but I'll opine that Rohrabacher is taking a risk. He knows, I know, and quite a few other people know, that a planetary defense system should have been set up decades back. Even so, I think there's a good chance that someone will remember Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award, and pillory this 'falling rocks' bill as a silly, extravagant waste of taxpayer's money.

After all, we haven't had an asteroid impact for a long time.

I think preparing for a near-inevitable catastrophe before it happens is a good idea.

It wouldn't take anything even close to the impact that - at the very least - slowed down the dinosaurs, to make the latest eruptions of Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens, or Eyjafjallajökull look like minor inconveniences.

Back in May, I posted what would happen if the sort of rock that falls every 11 centuries or so, on average, came down over Dallas, Texas. I was mildly surprised at how little energy would be released: just over 20 megatons. Still, it's the sort of event best viewed from a distance of, say, 100 kilometers.

Or, better yet, the sort of event to prevent.

Which is where H.R. 5587 comes in. We'll see if it escapes whatever committee it's been consigned to.

Related posts:More:


Brigid said...

This is awkward: "he's risking someone using this 'falling rocks' bill pilloried as silly"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Too true. I fixed it, I think.

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