The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has released a new report outlining the steps that NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will take both to prevent dangerous asteroids from striking Earth. The 18-page National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan lays forth a long list of activities to be undertaken over the next 10 years. Officials with NASA, FEMA and the White House discussed the new strategies with the media in a teleconference.
The plan details steps to take to prepare for objects such as asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of the planet. The document also outlines what will be done to prepare the country for the potential consequences of an asteroid strike. Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, at NASA Headquarters, Washington said in a statement, “Implementing the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan will greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”
There are five main goals outlined in the plan. The first is focused on enhancing the nation’s ability to detect and track near-earth objects that may pose a threat. There are also plans for improving modeling prediction and creating better simulations to assess risk. These would be used to set up practice protocols for what to do in the event of an impending impact. The plan also aims to develop technologies for deflecting near-earth objects and increasing international cooperation on these types of matters.
NASA has been studying near-earth objects since the 1970s. In 2005, congressional mandate was issued for NASA to keep track of 90 percent of the near-Earth objects larger than 460 feet. Since then, the total number of catalogued objects has increased by almost five times. There are over 18,300 recorded near-earth objects and more than 8,000 of them are 300 feet or larger.
Aaron Miles of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy made sure to note during the teleconference that no threat from a near-earth object is imminent. Miles said, “NASA and partners have identified 95 percent of asteroids large enough to cause global catastrophe and none will pose a threat in this century.” Leviticus Lewis, chief of FEMA’s National Response Coordination Branch, said on the teleconference that a catastrophic asteroid strike is “a low-probability but high-consequence event.”