The yet-to-be-named program office will be located at a NASA field center within the next few weeks, though some responsibilities will be maintained at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said Tom Morgan, discipline scientist for planetary astronomy. Morgan is shaping the duties of the new office.
"The first job is to understand what is out there, increase the numbers of detections and get good orbits for them," Morgan told Space News March 27. He said the new office will strengthen NASA?s ground-based program and study data from spacecraft missions to asteroids and comets.
Some $3 million is now being earmarked for the new program, a doubling of current NASA funding NEO work, he said. . . .
"Part of our ongoing plan is to understand the composition, the mineralogy, the physical condition of increasing numbers of NEOs," Morgan said. . . .
David Morrison, director of space for NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., said the recent public interest in asteroid 1997 XF11 shows the general concern about impact dangers and indicates potential public support for efforts to protect the planet. Morrison said an asteroid the size of XF11 striking Earth would release a million megatons of energy, probably leading to the death of millions of people. "The first step has to be to search for threatening objects. If we don?t look, we can be taken entirely by surprise,: Morrison said March 26.
* from Introduction
Many questions remain to be answered. . . Can we develop the scientific base of information necessary to save the Earth from an incoming asteroid like the one we believe ended the epoch of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? . . .
* Space Science Goals (total of 11)
9. Understand the external forces, including comet and asteroid impacts, that affect life and the habitabilty of Earth.
* Space Science Objectives (total of 19)
17. Complete the inventory and characterize a sample of near-Earth objects down to 1-km diameter
February 5, 1998
Congressman Weldon asked about NASA's asteroid study. Mr. Goldin described a series of missions tracking these small bodies in cooperation with the Department of Defense. A new NASA Program Office is being put together which would integrate all of the NASA programs and research which is being done involving near-earth-crossing objects to study potential collisions with Earth and evasive actions that can be taken.
Boston Globe, April 6, 1998
By David L. Chandler
. . . Boosted by all the public attention generated by the [XF11] affair -
and perhaps by the imminent arrival of two Hollywood blockbusters about asteroid impacts - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided last week to double its spending this year on efforts to track down most of the rocks hurtling through space that might have Earth's name on them.
. . . Because of the way the [XF11] episode played out, [Carl] Pilcher
said, NASA last week drafted preliminary guidelines for any future reports of threatening asteroids. The plan, drafted after a long and heated meeting among the specialists last month in Houston, in essence calls for private consultation among the groups involved before any public announcement is made.
''I think the obligation we have as a community is to provide the best possible information about whatever is out there, in the shortest possible time,'' said Pilcher, NASA's acting science director for solar system exploration. With 1997 XF11, that ''best information'' was compiled the day after the initial announcement. . . . ''We have the goal in our strategic plan to identify all the objects greater than 1 kilometer in diameter'' - those large enough to be capable of producing global damage if they were to strike Earth - ''and do that in a decade. That is our objective.'' But that will require a significant increase over the present efforts, which are finding ''potentially hazardous asteroids'' at a rate of about one a month.
1 April 1998
1. No hazard or threat prediction statements will be released without verification and consensus.
2. Astrometric data on Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) or suspected NEOs received by the Minor Planets Center (MPC) of the International Astronomical Union at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics will be made available to the scientific community, generally within 24 hours of receipt.
3. Should a member of the NEO search community2 note a future, possibly threatening, close approach to the Earth, the other members of the NEO search community will be notified so that calculations can be checked and archival files can be searched for prediscovery observations. The response will be coordinated by a point of contact to be designated by the NASA Office of Space Science (OSS), and the search community will make an effort to reach consensus as to the nature of the threat within 48 hours of being informed.
4. The NASA OSS will be informed at least 24 hours in advance of any public report of a PHO.
5. NASA, in coordination with appropriate national and international organizations, will sponsor a study of how best to communicate NEO issues to the public. This study will include an international workshop to develop detailed recommendations concerning procedures, roles, and responsibilities regarding observations, orbit calculations, and
communications with the public and policy-making officials.
1 These interim guidelines represent an agreement among NASA-supported NEO searchers and dynamicists.
2 The NEO search community includes all major NEO searchers, dynamicists, and data archivists.