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Space Foundation urges space faring nations to address Near Earth Object impact threat

11/23/2003

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.(Nov. 24, 2003) -- Citing the need to protect our home planet from potentially devastating cosmic events, the Space Foundation has begun urging the U.S. government, other space faring nations and appropriate international organizations to begin making serious efforts to address the impact threat to Earth from Near Earth Objects (NEOs). (Near Earth Objects include asteroids, comets and other space bodies that might pose a threat to the earth.) The Space Foundation Board of Directors Oct. 27 passed a resolution concerning NEOs, which states "for the first time in human history we have the potential to protect ourselves from a catastrophe of cosmic proportions. We cannot rely on statistics alone to protect us from catastrophe; nor can we await a modern occurrence of a devastating NEO impact before taking steps to adequately address this threat. Our nation, our families, and others around the globe deserve our best efforts to protect against the NEO impact threat." In July 2003, a distinguished group of leading American scientists and space explorers called global attention to this issue via a widely distributed "Open Letter to Congress on Near Earth Objects," recommending the following steps:

  • NEO Detection: Expand and enhance this nation's capability to detect and to determine the orbits and physical characteristics of NEOs.
  • NEO Exploration: Expand robotic exploration of asteroids and Earth-approaching comets and direct that U.S. astronauts again leave low-Earth orbit to further explore certain NEOs in deep space.
  • NEO Contingency Planning: Initiate comprehensive contingency planning for deflecting any NEO found to pose a potential threat to Earth.

The Space Foundation endorses these recommendations and is encouraging the U.S. government and others to act upon them. The Open Letter also described past historic catastrophic events in which the Earth was struck by an asteroid or other space object and recounted some recent close calls:

  • 65 million years ago a NEO struck Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs.
  • 35 million years ago a NEO struck Chesapeake Bay and created a 50-mile-wide crater that changed the course of many rivers.
  • 100 years ago a NEO hit Russia and wiped out a region 40 miles wide.
  • In 1994 a comet struck Jupiter and created a dust cloud larger than Earth, which would have destroyed life on this planet.
  • In 2002 an asteroid, which would have destroyed nearly everyone and everything in an area about the size of New England, nearly missed our planet.
  • Also in 2002, an asteroid passed within only 75,000 miles of the Earth at a speed of over 23,000 miles per hour, capable of exploding with energy about equal to that of the 1908 Tunguska blast.
  • Another object estimated to be over a mile in diameter was also discovered in 2002, emphasizing the fact that many large NEOs remain undiscovered.

About the Space Foundation
The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Space Foundation is a national non-profit organization, which vigorously advances civil, commercial, and national security space endeavors and educational excellence. The Space Foundation annually conducts, along with its partnering organizations, Space at the Crossroads, Feb. 18, 2004, in Washington, D.C.; the National Space Symposium, March 29 - April 1, 2004, at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs; and Strategic Space 2004, Oct. 5-7, 2004, in Omaha, Neb. The Foundation manages the on-site NASA Educational Resource Center; offers two distinct Master's in Space Studies Degrees in conjunction with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Regis University; and has trained more than 30,000 teachers since 1986 on Teaching With Space through Space Discovery graduate courses and national conferences. For more information, visit www.spacefoundation.org.

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