The head of NASA, Charles Bolden, reminded America just how unprepared we are for an asteroid, as he said the only hope at this point is to pray.
As he spoke in front of the House Science Committee, he said that the U.S. doesn’t even have the capabilities to defend itself from an asteroid similar to the one that exploded over Russia last month.
After he was asked what NASA’s plans were if they saw a similar asteroid coming for New York, Bolden said, “The answer to you is, if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.”
Asteroid concerns have risen since the 55-foot-wide rock blew up over Chelyabinsk, Russia without warning. It got many U.S. lawmakers wondering what would happen if the same one would have hit our country.
Rep. Bill Posey, of Florida, said, “While a good segment of the country thinks we can just call Bruce Willis in, we don’t even have a shuttle anymore.”
Many blame the House and current Administration for the lack of preparedness. Posey said he was angered by their failure to back a $750 million infrared telescope orbiting Venus.
One reason the Russian meteor was not detected was because it came from the same direction as the sun, so land-based telescopes were useless.
At the meeting, the Committee learned that an asteroid only 55-feet-wide has the ability to flatten an entire city. Russian’s meteor exploded 56 feet above ground, so the effect was less.
Currently, the ability to detect a deadly asteroid seems pretty hopeless, as Bolden said it would take untill 2030 to identify 90 percent of near-Earth objects between 140 meters and 1 kilometer in width, even with a funding of $20 million a year.
White House science adviser John Holdren said there is a slim chance of an object hitting Earth and causing casualties, but since the consequences are so large, we need to take it seriously.
“The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive casualties and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large that it makes sense to take the risk seriously,” Holdren said.
He said the most useful project would be to put an infrared-sensing telescope in a Venus-like orbit, similar to the Sentinel Space Telescope being developed by nonprofit B612 Foundation.
He said of the Russian asteroid: “It came from a direction where our [existing] telescopes could not look. We cannot look in the sun.”
The cost of creating the telescope stands at $750 million, compared to the administration’s $2 billion plan to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025.
Bolden said the building of a telescope is more important.
“The president has a plan. But that plan is incremental. And if we want to save the planet, because I think that’s what we’re talking about, then we have to get together...and decide how we’re going to execute that plan.”