NASA Inspector General Paul Martin has alerted of the awful state of the asteroid defense system, a program mandated by Congress in 2005 to detect and track at least 90 percent near-Earth objects greater than 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter by 2020. This is bad news. From the report:
While the program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA estimates that it has identified only 10 percent of all asteroids 140 meters and larger and will not meet the 2020 deadline [...]
a single program executive who manages a loosely structured, non-integrated conglomerate of research activities with little coordination, insufficient program oversight, and no established milestones to track progress.
In addition to that, the audit criticizes the fact that the program is not working with the authorities to put programs in place in case a dangerous asteroid is detected, spending only seven percent of its admittedly ridiculous $40 million budget in planning defense strategies and emergency evacuations:
[L]ack of planning and resources has prevented the NEO Program from developing additional agreements that could help achieve program goals.
For example, establishing formal partnerships with the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and international agencies could give the NEO Program access to additional Earth-based telescopes and thereby increase its ability to detect, track, and characterize a greater number of NEOs.
While some people may take all this lightly, this is not a joke. The possibility of an asteroid coming out of nowhere and hitting us is certainly there. It almost happened not so long ago, when a 57-foot (18-meter) meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013, unleashing the force of "30 atomic bombs, blowing out windows, destroying buildings, and injuring more than 1,000 people." Had that meteorite hit the ground, the local damage would have been extraordinary. And, in that case, an early detection system could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Which is exactly why this program was mandated by Congress and why the international community should get their act together to make this detection and track system a reality. We can't just sit here and wait till one of these rocks hits some major city and kill a few millions out of the blue. No matter how low the probability may be, the danger is out there and it's very solid and real.
And now, here's an old video of the end of the world if something much, much bigger hit us. You know, because seeing civilization and world life getting destroyed is always a lot fun.
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