[FPSPACE] NASA and NEOs
Matula, Thomas L.
MATULAT at uhv.edu
Wed Apr 4 16:12:22 EDT 2007
First I am not a fan of NASA's Mars program and I think NASA fixation on Mars more then other factor is what is killing the agency. As a verse from Jimmy Buffet (a famous country music singer) song Fruitcakes goes
[[[We lost our martian rocket ship
The high paid spokesman said
Looks like that silly rocket ship
Has lost its cone shaped head
We spent 90 jillion dollars trying to get a look at mars
I hear universal laughter ringing out among the stars]]]
If I was in charge of NASA I would pull the plug on the Mars program and transfer that funding to NEO and lunar missions. We have enough of an armada to keep Mars scientists afloat in data until retirement and beyond. And NASA is not planning on sending humans to Mars for at least another 30-40 years while it is planning to send humans to the Moon in another 15 and perhaps to a NEO even before that. So that is where NASA needs to invest limited taxpayer funding for robotic missions, to prepare for the human missions just as was done with Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter for Project Apollo. Not to search for bacteria on Mars. That could wait for a generation or two without any impact on the nations future.
Indeed this is even something NY Times is now calling for, namely for NASA to redirect its efforts away from robotic missions to NEO Defense which it feels is far more important then the robotic missions NASA is doing.
Finding Doomsday Asteroids
[[[That is understandable. NASA is burdened with the need to finish the space station, build a successor to the shuttles, return to the moon and conduct wide-ranging research. It already has more jobs to perform than money to perform them. But finding asteroids that might threaten the planet, and studying their characteristics in the process, is probably more important than at least some of the other robotic missions mounted by NASA. Congress should either add funds to the agencys budget, or the agency should divert funds from other programs to accelerate the asteroid hunt.]]]
Of course NASA Mars driven science policy making will ignore this call as it has others and continue to talk about how important it is to find life on Mars, as if anyone other then a handful of astrobiologists care..
But NASA making NEOs its central focus is just not going to happen as the Mars science program has too many friends in high places at NASA for any but token cuts in it, unlike the lunar program which was axed completely except for one mapping mission.
This lack of response to both the Congress and the public also shows that NASA spending and strategic planning is being driven more by science, not engineering, objectives despite what David claims. And that very fixation on Mars means that NASA will not really have its heart in developing the proper space systems for NEO detection even though groups like the
By contrast the U.S. Air Force on the other hand already operates sensors arrays in space, the technology of which could be modified for space based NEO detection systems, just as they modified their ground based tracking systems to search for NEOs. It knows how to build and manage them. AND it wants to go after NEOs.
I dont know if you are aware but in the first 2 years of operation their ground tracking system LINEAR made 3 MILLION observations of asteroids and discovered over 200,000 NEW asteroids, far more than ALL of the astronomy programs in the world had done in the first 200 YEARS since the first asteroid was discovered. The only reason NASA was able to meet their 1990s goal of locating the majority of large NEOs was thanks to the LINEAR program by the U.S. Air Force.
So you could either fight organization culture and mindset and force NASA to do a mission it has little taste for or be a realist and give it to an agency that has been quietly signaling its willingness for the mission for years and has the organizational capability and desire to quickly implement it. Personally I would go for the latter solution and the heck with the folks in space policy that feel giving the NEO mission to a branch of the military sends the wrong signals about Americas intentions in space. After all the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers handles most of the flood control in the U.S. and no one thinks they are planning to use that technology to flood our enemies.
From: Jens Kieffer-Olsen [mailto:dstdba at post4.tele.dk]
Sent: Wed 4/4/2007 12:50 PM
To: Matula, Thomas L.; FPSPACE at friends-partners.org
Subject: RE: [FPSPACE] What should NASA be?[Scanned by MAIL]
From: Matula, Thomas L. [mailto:MATULAT at uhv.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2007 7:14 PM
> Yes detection is a separate issue and currently over 5,000
> new NEOs are found every month, the vast majority thanks to
> the LINEAR program at U.S Air Force tracking station at White
> Sands Missile Range.
> Even NASA JPL notes they, not NASA, are responsible for the
> vast majority of those being found.
> So while NASA is still studying how to build telescopes to
> search for NEOs the U.S. Air Force has them already and has
> been using them to find thousands a month, including some as
> small as 30 meters (city busters) and has been doing so since 2002.
> Once again, if you want action give the job to the agency
> which has demonstrated it is action oriented and demonstrated
> it WANTS to do the job by finding ways of using its
> facilities and money in its budget to do so.
It would be ok to trust PHO detection to Earth-based agencies
such as the US Air Force, if the job could be carried out here
Finding the odd 30m village buster as it passes inside the
orbit of our Moon is no proof that Earth-based tracking stations
can systematically map 90% of the lot over a reasonable period,
that is decades rather than centuries. In fact, I don't believe
it would be cost-justified to protract the exercise over that
Even though follow-up observations of hundreds of thousands
of potentially hazardous objects will remain an obligation
forever, the cost of maintaining a PHO inventory is much less
than that of setting it up initially.
As Ed Grondine has put it so well, let's first spend those
few peanuts on a comprehensive PHO detection program, then
afterwards feel free to spend lots of coconuts on manned
trips to Phobos, Deimos, and even Mars.
NASA is key to the quick detection of all >50m PHOs, because
they can easily incorporate the much-needed telescopes and
transponders into current mission plans. It would be silly
to ask the Air Force to meddle their way into that business.
I suspect that it is the mitigation game that causes NASA to
balk somewhat? Surely, if they were freed of the concern for
testing how to deflect all sorts of objects - not knowing
which year which object out there is due to hit - then they
just might understand, accept, and accomplish that most noble
of their obligations - to give us all a running all-clear.
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