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United Nations Introduces Asteroid Defense Plan
October 28, 2013
The United Nations has announced that it will be implementing a series of measures that will allow members to share information on potentially dangerous asteroids, with the ultimate aim being to coordinate planetary protection and defense.
In an article posted on Scientific American, officials at the UN revealed that, following a series of recommendations by former astronauts and members of the Association of Space Explorers, it would be setting up an "International Asteroid Warning Group." The need to pool engineering resources and scientific information has become more prevalent in recent years, especially when considering that most government space agencies do not consider asteroid deflection to be one of their core responsibilities.
The situation has been brought into international focus by a series of near misses in the last 12 months, which included the sight of meteor fragments streaking through the skies over Russia in February. To date, the threats posed by asteroids have been a stable part of pop culture and science fiction but, according to the ASE, the time has come for somebody to take responsibility for protecting the Earth from what it calls a "long neglected problem of errant space rocks."
While the intentions of the UN are to be applauded, it is perhaps difficult to understand why there has never been a formal discussion about how best to deal with a potential asteroid impact. Over the years there have been many occasions when small fragments have fallen to Earth, with 1,500 people injured in the February incident alone.
However, there has been little or no guidance given by federal governments and, up until now at least, those who have some experience of space have been left frustrated by a lack of planetary safety precautions. In fact, the only real work has seemingly been done by the UN, whose Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been charged with developing a plan that would require international cooperation in the event of a potential impact.
"No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies," noted Rusty Schweickart, who was a member of the Apollo 9 mission in 1969. "NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency."
Seek and deflect
With that in mind, Schweickart and ex-NASA astronaut Ed Lu have helped set up the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization that will specifically address the problem of asteroid impact and, potentially, develop engineering tools and resources that can search for hazardous near-Earth objects. According to the news source, the foundation is already in the process of building a space telescope - the "Sentinel" - which is expected to be launched sometime in 2017 and will be a vital part of the UN's plans to promote global information sharing.
Speaking at a recent event in New York, Lu noted that the current situation is "unacceptable," advocating that each nation nominate a delegate that would be responsible for dealing with large asteroids before they come into contact with the Earth, a suggestion that the UN is keen to take on board. Early warning is an essential part of the process, and the ASE is pushing the organization to coordinate engineering research and development into a practice mission that could, in theory, push an asteroid off course.
"The next step in defending Earth against dangerous asteroids is to find them," said Lu, according to the news source. "There are 100 times more asteroids out there than we have found. There are about 1 million asteroids large enough to destroy New York City or larger. Our challenge is to find these asteroids first before they find us."