On the morning of Friday, February 15th, the planet Earth was once again reminded of its vulnerability to the dangers of our own solar system. An estimated 11,000-ton meteor exploded over the skies of the southern Russian city of Chelyabinsk, releasing nearly 500 kilotons of energy from its entry into Earth’s atmosphere to its airborne disintegration. With injury estimates exceeding 1,000 and a reported 3,000 buildings damaged, it is a staunch reminder of the dangers and risks that we carry every day unknowingly. Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) calls on Congress to expedite the development of technologies to not only discover these objects with greater speed and accuracy, but also those to divert such destructive forces once we do detect them from our fragile pale blue dot.
The Chelyabinsk event came less than 24 hours away from the closest approach of 2012 DA14, a 190,000-ton asteroid. 2012 DA14 was discovered just last year by amateur astronomers in Spain, and estimated to be coming within 17,200 miles of Earth’s surface. Our own communications satellites watched as it came within a hair’s breadth of Earth by astronomical standards. If this asteroid were to have impacted our planet, it would’ve released an explosion around three megatons — almost 200 times more powerful than the blast from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. While astronomers have been able to determine that 2012 DA14 will not impact us in the future, we should see this flyby as another cautionary reminder of the imminent and omnipresent dangers just outside our atmosphere.
SEDS calls on world leaders to recognize the danger we face and provide appropriate resources to reduce the risk to all of human life. The potential likelihood of localized or worldwide destruction with humanity caught unaware is far too grave to ignore. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration currently has several existing programs and missions which have made great progress in identifying risks. However the need for additional attention and focus cannot be understated. As the events in Russia have shown us, we must strive for 100% detection of objects which could potentially be life threatening. While we escaped relatively unscathed this time, the future may not be so lucky.
In addition to the detection of these objects, we must be prepared to deal with these threats. The truth is that if a large asteroid were to be discovered hurtling towards Earth with only six months remaining before impact, we would be without options. We call on Congress to direct our National Space Program to find solutions to this problem and develop a plan for intervening. Developing this technology and enabling partner organizations (such as the B612 Foundation, Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources Inc., and others) to aid in the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will allow the country to progress on mission as directed by the President’s Space Policy of 2008 and create an unprecedented plan of action in the case of certain asteroid destruction.
Students for the Exploration and Development of Space thanks you for your time and attention to this matter.
SEDS-USA Executive Director