The Nation’s lawmakers can’t find a way to produce a budget, avert financial crises or help to bring an end to the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast; but that isn’t stopping them from shooting for the stars. A House committee will convene this week to hold a hearing about how the government could stop asteroids and meteors from hitting the Earth.
The Wednesday hearing comes just weeks after a massive asteroid 17,000 miles away buzzed the Earth and a meteorite smashed into the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
The hearing could have been sparked by a United Nations effort to encourage world governments to be more vigilant about asteroids and other space threats. The efforts are being pushed through the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, whose mission is “promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.”
Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said the importance of holding a hearing on “Threats from Space: A Review of U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors” was underscored by the events last month.
“Developing technology and research that enable us to track objects like Asteroid 2012 DA14 is critical to our future,” he told The Hill. “We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth.
“Fifty years ago, we would have had no way of seeing an asteroid like this coming,” he added. “Now, thanks to the discoveries NASA has made in its short history, we have known about 2012 DA14 for about a year.”
Lawmakers will hear testimony from White House Science and Technology Director John Holdren and Gen. William Shelton, who commands the U.S. Air Force Space Command, during the hearing. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the planned Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission last month. The mission, which is scheduled to occur in 2022 when the asteroid Didymos nears Earth, involves crashing a spacecraft into the object in a bid to throw it off course.
Another idea the lawmakers could possibly hear about is that of two University of California scientists who have proposed a massive, solar-powered “orbital defense system” to destroy space rocks long before they came within striking distance of Earth. That system, called DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids an exploRation, would involve harnessing sunlight which would then be focused into laser beams and used to obliterate threatening space debris.