A former NASA astronaut says his agency has an obligation to protect civilians in a killer asteroid, but it does not meet its obligations.
The threat of an asteroid strike can look as abstract as space. But rarely, this risk is more realistic and potentially lethal than the threat of the most potent nuclear weapon.
Risk of dying above
In 1908, an alien rock, estimated to have hundreds of feet in diameter, screamed into the atmosphere of the earth, thousands of miles an hour, and a nuclear bomb exploded in the remote Guska region of Russia.
As a result, the storm was flattened to nearly double the area of New York City.
More recently, in 2013, a 70-foot-wide meteorite fired at Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Shocking fireballs shattered the windows a few miles, sent more than 1,000 people to hospitals in several cities, and dozens were seriously injured.
We know they are there.
NASA is aware of that danger carefully.
In 2005, Congress created one of the seven key objectives of the agency to track 90% of the asteroids four hundred feet (140 meters), which could lead to worse-than-average events than Tunguska. The deadline for this statutory mandate is 2020.
Until now, however, earth and space telescopes are less than one-third of these Earth-to-Earth objects (NEOs), and NASA will almost certainly fail to meet deadlines.
In practice, this means tens of thousands of NEOs to eliminate the cities that have not yet been discovered, according to the June 2018 report released by the White House.
The same report concluded that present and planned capabilities will find less than half of such rocks by 2033.
We have the technology to face the problem.
NASA can launch a small infrared observatory, the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam). NASA says there is a solution waiting for this problem. Rusty Schweickart, a retired astronaut who served on the Apollo 9 mission,
Schweickart said in an interview with Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1, "It is an important telescope to defend life on earth.
NEOCam's designers pitched the mission several times over NASA. Missionaries received millions of dollars everywhere to continue developing in response to the proposal. However, the agency donated the full fund in all cases because it was not purely science-based.
"Do not engage in any other scientific competition," Schweickart said. "This is a public safety program."
How does NEOCam hunt 'a city killer' asteroid?
A telescope looking at the right place in a timely manner can sense the point of light that sneaks across the black of space. This allows scientists to calculate the mass, velocity, and orbits of the NEO, and eventually calculates the probability of falling into the earth.
However, small NEOs are not very bright. This means that the telescope must be big, see the sky a lot, and use very advanced hardware to pick up the telescope. This monster telescope takes a very long time to build and calibrate, and it is expensive but expensive.
For example, looking at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), it is one of the best wishes for finding killer asteroids on Earth. The project started in 2015 and is expected to cost about $ 500 million.
According to the current construction plan, it will not be fully operational until the end of 2021 and the 90% reduction target set by Congress by mid-2021.
Like all ground based observatories, LSST has two major limitations.
First: Mark Sykes, the director of the Planetary Science Institute and a scientist on the NEOCam team, previously told Business Insider: "You can not see an asteroid near the sun, it's blind in the sky."
"Now we have to wait until they come out before us."
Sykes' second stumbling block is that terrestrial based telescopes rely primarily on visible light for detection. "if [an asteroid] If the surface is dark, it will be very difficult to see. "
NEOCam solves these two problems in a space where Sykes says "it was blind in the sky."
The telescope also uses a high-resolution infrared camera. Infrared rays are longer wavelengths of light that are invisible to our eyes. But if the sauce is strong enough, we can feel the light that does not look warm to the skin.
An asteroid warmed by the sun, radioactive elements, or both, emits infrared radiation even when the ground-based telescope is too small or too dark to be seen. NEOCam can only find them with a thermal signature.
This approach has already proved effective.
A typical example is NASA's 8-year-old Wide-field infrared surveying (WISE) telescope, which found about 275 NEOs, including 50 potentially dangerous asteroids or PHOs. Points from their orbits).
However, it is a less powerful telescope, has a smaller field of view, and an older camera (NEOCam does not need it) that requires cryogenic cooling is not just designed to hunt asteroids.
A telescope called NEOWISE can now be closed in December 2018.
NEOCam is the best moment on Earth to quickly detect asteroids
According to recent studies Journal of AstronomyWith NEOCam and LSST alone, Congress would not have achieved 90 per cent detection rights – by working together, the observatory could achieve its goal for 10 years.
However, NEOCam greatly improves the situation under LSST.
At NASA's latest pitch, the NEOCam team launched in 2021 and suggested that within four years they would find two-thirds of missing objects in a category over 140 feet, or be about 10 years ahead of LSST's schedule.
According to a report released by the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) in December 2016, less than 70% of all NEOs over 140 feet were not found.
This is about 25,000 near asteroids and about 2,300 potentially dangerous ones.
According to the NTSC report, telescopes in orbit, such as NEOCam, can be used to remove Tunguska-type events (about once every 100-200 years) and Chelyabinsk-type events 10 years), of which less than 1% are located.
So why is not NASA, which is a top priority with the ability to replace NEOWISE, fund NEOCam in 2024?
& # 39; NASA is responsible for doing it & # 39;
The team behind NEOCam pitched three times to NASA in 2006, 2010, and 2015, and NASA 3 fully procured the telescope.
According to sources, business insiders said the proposal has no technical weakness. Instead, they attempted to square nails into round bureaucratic holes.
NASA's competition, called Discovery, takes science values that do not guarantee human safety as important, and has not donated nearly $ 450 million to NEOCam to develop spacecraft and rockets.
NASA has decided to use two explorations, Lucy, an excavator to explore ancient ancestral hunts near Jupiter, and Psyche, to orbit all the metal cores of a dead planet, I picked a probe.
In the case of Schweickart, he does not care about distinction.
"NASA is responsible for it, and it is not happening," he said. "NASA and Congress should include it in NASA's budget."
Neocam earned $ 35 million in the 2018 government funding bill, but proponents say it is not enough to take the telescope to the launch pad.
"NEOCam is in a zombie state and all the earths are inevitably crucified," said Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist and expert on the asteroid risk of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Binzel is one of three scientists who recently wrote a recent writing on Space News to support project funding, even if it is not a project team.
Binzel and others have argued that NEOCam could raise the House budget to US $ 40 million (US $ 160 million to $ 200 million) and launch a rocket ride on an IMAP spacecraft. The agency plans to launch in 2024.
NEOCam works with terrestrial based telescopes to achieve near 70% detection within four years and 90% detection target within ten years.
It is not easy to find such money. Binzel said that the asteroid strike is less frequent and is politically inexpensive, instead funding different projects each year.
"But when the ability to acquire the necessary knowledge is easily understood, the wrong result is irresponsible," he said.
"Act like a responsible adult & # 39; just do it." What are we waiting for? "
It now depends on President Trump and Congress.
Schweickart acknowledges that NASA's budget and culture has been focused on top-level scientific exploration for decades and that it is not easy to escape this norm – whether it is mandated by Congress.
"You are going upstream, you are fighting a very strong wind in NASA," he said, adding that drawing funds from the science budget is not very popular. However, government agencies are not free to demand increased budgets. "
Schweickart and his fellow retired astronaut Ed Lu worked hard to solve this problem by co-founding the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization that developed NEO detection capabilities several years ago.
However, the group has partially announced the longest running (and most expensive) idea of the Sentinel space telescope to improve the likelihood of NEOCam funding. On October 29, the organization even announced strong support for lawmakers to fully fund their rival funds.
The public also appears to be onboard with NASA and is conducting an asteroid detection project like NEOCam.
In a June poll by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of 2,500 US adults surveyed said that asteroid monitoring is a top priority for NASA. (It was only better to monitor climate change.)
What the Trump administration should do when it makes a decision with NEOCam in NASA's next budget and Congress approves the budget.
Stephen Jurczyk, NASA's relationship manager, told Business Insider at the Economist Space Summit: "February debate.
"All the measures were not taken until the president handed the budget to Congress."
Jurczyk acknowledged the tension between NASA's obligation to discover dangerous asteroids and internal changes needed to carry out its work.
"There is a certain cultural issue, we have pure science and a purely competitive spirit," he said.
"We have begun to evolve into a more diverse and balanced approach between pure science and the other things we have to do."
The question is whether these changes will occur before the next Tunguska-type asteroid arrives on Earth. Given enough warning, we can fly to such an outer space to prevent disasters. Or if you do not have enough time, move people in a dangerous direction.
This article was first published by Business Insider.
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