Private Companies can Play Key Role in Tracking Asteroids

Apr 10, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held the second part of a two-part series of hearings looking at the tracking, characterization and mitigation of Near Earth Objects (NEOs).  Today’s hearing focused on the most viable near-term initiatives within the private sector and the international coordination needed to identify and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and meteors.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “Most troubling to me is the fact that of the up to 20,000 asteroids that could be labeled as ‘city destroyers,’ we have identified only 10 percent.  And we are unlikely to have the means to detect 90 percent until 2030.

“We must better recognize what the private sector can do to aid our efforts to protect the world. This won’t be an effort of one agency, one company, or one country.  And in these fiscally challenging times, we can’t afford duplication or the inefficient use of our resources. The more we discuss and understand the challenges we face, the easier it will be to facilitate possible solutions.”

On Friday, February 15, 2013, an unforeseen meteor exploded in the sky above Russia, releasing about twenty times the explosive energy of the atomic blast used over the city of Hiroshima. This blast injured nearly 1,200 people and resulted in an estimated $33 million in property damage. On the same day, a larger asteroid tracked closely by NASA passed safely by the Earth. Until it entered our atmosphere, the Russian meteor went completely undetected. According to NASA, the two events were unrelated, but raised public awareness of the potential threat from NEOs.

On March 19, 2013, the Committee held its first hearing, which examined the U.S. government’s plans and programs to identify, catalog, and coordinate the threat of NEOs. Beyond the U.S. Government, witnesses today discussed public-private partnership, commercial private sector, and philanthropic initiatives to survey the sky for asteroids and comets.

The following witnesses testified today:

Dr. Ed Lu, Chairman & CEO, B612 Foundation

Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, Manager, Near-Earth Objects Program Office, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Michael F. A’Hearn, Vice-Chair, Committee to Review Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies, National Research Council