Everywhere you look, there are similarities to be found. For instance, who’d have thought that the problem holding NASA back from identifying and tracking large near-Earth objects (NEOs) in space is the same problem keeping me from opening my line of Beer and Bacon eateries? It all comes down to Congress not footing the bill, really, but at least I don’t have Congress on my back about it.
It’s been a little over a month since the double-billed meteor strike in Russia and the fly-by of the DA14 asteroid, so Congress gathered officials from NASA, the White House, and the Air Force and asked what’s being done to squash future NEO threats. After some agreement that last month’s episodes were purely coincidental, the seriousness of such an imposing disaster guided the rest of the conversation, which could seemingly be summarized as: No money, no progress.
In 2005, Congress gave NASA the explicit directive of NEO classification, with a goal of identifying 90 percent of these Armageddon-bringers, rocks larger than 459 feet across (140 m). But NASA’s chief, Charles Bolden, had few encouraging words for the space rock-headed governing body.
“Our estimate right now is at the present budget levels it will be 2030 before we’re able to reach the 90 percent level as prescribed by Congress,” Bolden said, going on to verbally point fingers. “You all told us to do something, and between the administration and the Congress, the bottom line is the funding did not come.” He went on to say lawmakers have for years been procrastinating on NEO research, citing a lack of funds as their excuse.
Bolden, perhaps wisely given the government’s unending money dumping into military and defense, also brought up the inability of the military to monitor these objects — including orbital debris such as defunct satellites.
“We are clearly less capable under sequestration,” said Gen. William Shelton, current commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, warning of dire consequences should the budget be cut further. “Our dependence on space, not only for our way of life but also for military operations, is very high, so we would sacrifice that.”
Bolden said it best, however, when Rep. Bill Posey asked what would be done if a large asteroid was discovered only three weeks before it was to collide with Earth.
“The answer to you is, ‘If it’s coming in three weeks, pray.'” Maybe they can spend some of those millions of dollars saved on research and buy themselves a bunch of asteroid-proof Bibles to hide behind. All hail democracy!