The threat of an asteroid hitting planet Earth and taking us all out is very real. Apparently, however, our early warning system isn’t doing a very good job of letting us know the end might be near.
Back in 2005, Congress gave NASA a mandate to institute an initiative to find and track at least 90 percent of the near-Earth objects heading our way that are greater than 460 feet in diameter by 2020. Now NASA Inspector General Paul Martin has taken a hard look at the project and found it is woefully underperforming due to a “lack of planning and resources.”
Here’s an excerpt of just how badly the Near Earth Object (NEO) Program is going:
While the program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA estimates that it has identified only 10 percent of all asteroids 140 meters and larger and will not meet the 2020 deadline … [The NEO program is] a single program executive who manages a loosely structured, non-integrated conglomerate of research activities with little coordination, insufficient program oversight, and no established milestones to track progress.
Martin noted that one major problem stems from the fact that just $1 million of the program’s $40 million budget is spent on strategies to deflect an incoming asteroid or evacuate areas in danger of impact. Which, you know, could be important if humanity hopes to survive an asteroid strike.
The report went on to cite some areas where a higher level of cooperation with other projects and agencies could go a long way toward at least improving the NEO Program’s efficiency:
[L]ack of planning and resources has prevented the NEO Program from developing additional agreements that could help achieve program goals … For example, establishing formal partnerships with the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and international agencies could give the NEO Program access to additional Earth-based telescopes and thereby increase its ability to detect, track, and characterize a greater number of NEOs.
So keep an eye toward the sky, folks — because we can apparently use as many as possible to keep tabs on everything going on up there.