Hey, the summer of terrible news wouldn’t be complete without this fitting coda. The Inspector General says the program designed to keep asteroids from pulverizing our planet and ending our very existence is pretty shabby. Look, I’m not real high on the federal government’s ability to get things done, in general, but if there are some responsibilities it has, I can probably get behind a well-managed defense on Earth and beyond.
NASA’s effort to identify potentially dangerous space rocks has taken a hit.
On Monday, the space agency’s inspector general released a report blasting NASA’s Near Earth Objects program, which is meant to hunt and catalog comets, asteroids and relatively large fragments of these objects that pass within 28 million miles of Earth. The purpose is to protect the planet against their potential dangers.
Most near-Earth objects harmlessly disintegrate before reaching Earth’s surface. But there are exceptions, like the nearly 60-foot meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013, causing considerable damage.
In a 44-page report, Inspector General Paul Martin said the Near Earth Objects program needs to be better organized and managed, with a bigger staff.
NASA’s science mission chief, former astronaut John Grunsfeld, agreed and promised the problems will be fixed.
“NASA places a high priority on finding and characterizing hazardous asteroids to protect our home planet from them” he said in a statement.
The full report is here.
Though NASA has not historically gotten a lot of respect from the Obama administration, notice the principle problems here are management and organization, not money. NBC makes that explicit in its reporting on the report:
Monday’s report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General focuses on the agency’s program to deal with near-Earth objects. That program is budgeted at $40 million a year, which represents a tenfold increase over what it was five years ago…
“We believe the program would be more efficient, effective and transparent were it organized and managed in accordance with standard NASA research program requirements,” the inspector general’s report said.
The report faulted the NEO Program’s lack of structure, and said its resources are inadequate for handling its growing agenda. It said the program’s executive office fell short when it came to overseeing progress in the asteroid-tracking effort. What’s more, there were no formal partnerships with the Defense Department or the National Science Foundation, or with international space agencies. Those groups could make significant contributions to the effort, the report said.
Deal with the horrendous management and organization and total failure to make strategic partnerships, and we’ll talk about the funding. NASA said in a statement, it’s committed to asteroid hunting, and intent on solving these internal problems by next year. A 2013 asteroid that did damage when it exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk gave the world a good scare and raised awareness and the profiles of entrepreneurial attempts to hunt asteroids.
I’m heartened by the burgeoning field of private asteroid-hunting, buoyed by new technology and access to data collected by the government. Here’s a tale of two young Indian students who discovered two new asteroids while perusing images from the Astronomical Research Institute in the U.S.
On June 18, 2013, NASA announced its Grand Challenge program to get more people from around the planet involved in order to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them.” NASA invited professionals and amateurs to join in the nightly hunt for Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) to discuss their work and explore ways to accelerate asteroid detection and characterization.
Space research, until recently, was the work of governments and private companies. However, with the power of new technologies, such as remote telescope observation via computers, asteroid hunting is within the reach of all willing volunteers. And all are invited by NASA to participate.