Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) represent an extinction level threat to the entire human race. The odds are extremely low that an undetected asteroid or comet will strike the Earth and cause catastrophic damage, but given a long enough period of time anything can happen. It has been hypothesized that a large asteroid impacted the Earth 65 million years ago and led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. NEOs with diameters of less than 10m are typically destroyed in the upper atmosphere, but 50m NEOs can cause massive damage like the Tunguska Event in 1908. A 1km sized NEO is projected to strike the Earth every 500,000 years, while NEOs larger than 5km hit every ten million years. The possibility of global devastation galvanized the U.S. Congress into action in 2005, mandating NASA to detect 90% of the NEOs ranging from 140m and above by 2020. There are an estimated 20,000 asteroids and comets that have orbits close to Earth, and only 6000 of them have been found so far. The problem is that many asteroids and comets don't reflect a lot of light, making them hard to detect using conventional telescopes. NASA plans to address this with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), which will scan the entire sky in infrared light. Asteroids and comets emit infrared energy, and WISE is not only expected to detect thousands of them, but also provide data on their size, shape, and composition. – Daily Tech
Dominant Social Theme: NASA to the rescue.
Free-Market Analysis: When we wrote a while back that NASA was lobbying for funds to monitor for meteoric emergencies, we didn't know how far the process had gone. Apparently, the US Congress itself has given NASA the mandate to search the heavens for tiny bits of gravel. The program called WISE, only costs US$300 million, so we guess that counts as a "deal" for the US federal government and its enabling agencies. Here's what we wrote on November 12th:
We're actually under the impression that NASA is lobbying for additional government funds to monitor the sky for comets and asteroids that might pose a threat to our cozy little planet. But maybe that's a story for another day. We do have to smile at the statement that "there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs," as the NASA spokesperson isn't up-to-date on his Discovery Channel TV programs. A couple of years ago we saw an hour-long program that virtually debunked the entire asteroids-killed-the-dinosaur theory by indicating that the "event" seemed to have taken place millions of years AFTER the die off – leaving the entire argument back at square one. Oh, well.
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Dear reader we apologize. It never occurred to us that Congress (under the Bush administration, we note) ponied up US$300 million to provide a mandate to NASA to find comets in the sky. Honestly, now that we know, we don't feel a whole lot safer. This is the agency, after all, that recently admitted it had lost the original tapes of the moon landing, as follows:
NASA loses original tapes of first moon landing … NASA no longer knows the whereabouts of the original tapes of man's first landing on the moon nearly 40 years ago, an official of the US space agency said. "NASA is searching for the original tapes of the Apollo 11 spacewalk on July 21, 1969," said Ed Campion, a spokesman for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb. The tapes record the famous declaration of Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong (pictured left), the first man on the moon, as he set foot on its surface: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." The original tapes could be somewhere at the Goddard center or in the archives network of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Campion said. The search for the tapes began about a year and a half ago when the Goddard Space Flight Center's authorities realized they no longer knew where they were after retired employees asked to consult them. Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, was the commander of the first US lunar mission aboard the Apollo 11 capsule, with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. – AFP
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As is our mandate, we point out that power elite promotions involve frightening people in order to extract wealth and control. But this equation works on numerous levels, for bureaucracies as well as for the powers-that-be themselves. In this case, either NASA or its supporters in Congress came up with a new mandate for the agency. Since NASA is no longer putting men on the moon (and there is a growing segment of loony-tunes who claim it never did) then it will search the heavens for profound galactic threats.
The continual morphing of NASA is just further proof that a bad program never dies. Here's a prediction: It will not be government funded behemoths that get us to the stars but entrepreneurial efforts. Somewhere, a couple of kids in a garage are working on a propulsion system that will outdo anything NASA has been able to create with its billion dollar budget and "top scientific talent" culled from the best institutes and academies.
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