Who’s doing what in planetary defense, Part 2

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Credit: foreskills.co.uk

Following up on yesterday’s post about who’s doing what in planetary defense, I want to address a few more related points.

Let’s start with distinguishing between the Luxembourg-based Asteroid Day organization and International Asteroid Day.

At a February 15 press conference (via Google Hangout) held by the Asteroid Day organization on plans for its June 30 Asteroid Day celebrations this year, Asteroid Day cofounder and B612 Foundation president Danica Remy said, “This year will be our second year as the official Asteroid Day.” (B612 is a partner in Asteroid Day.)

This statement is not accurate.

On December 6, 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed in resolution A/71/492 that International Asteroid Day (IAD) will be observed annually on 30 June to raise public awareness about the asteroid impact hazard. June 30 is the anniversary of the Tunguska impact over Siberia, Russian Federation, on 30 June 1908. The Tunguska asteroid event was the Earth’s largest asteroid impact in recorded history.”

According to the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA),“International Asteroid Day will encourage reflection on the impact hazard of asteroids and the global work undertaken in this area and facilitated by UNOOSA, including work by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and its Member States, the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group, and the International Asteroid Warning Network. All United Nations Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, are invited to observe International Asteroid Day. The UNGA’s decision was made after a proposal by the Association of Space Explorers, which was endorsed by COPUOS.”

(Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart are members of the Association of Space Explorers and the founders of B612.)

In short, the U.N. has not designated the Asteroid Day organization or its June 30 celebrations as anything “official.”

At the February 15 press conference, Debbie Lewis, a member of Asteroid Day’s “expert panel,” pushed the need for international collaboration and cooperation. She did not mention the international collaboration and cooperation in finding, tracking, and characterizing asteroids and planning for planetary defense that has already been taking place, for some years. She did not mention, among other things, the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG), which have been at work since 2013.

Press conference moderator Scott Manley stated that “we” are planning to demonstrate the kinetic impact method for deflecting an asteroid off its orbital path. Again, see yesterday’s for information on who is actually working on this demonstration. (It’s not B612.)

In an email message dated February 15, B612’s Remy wrote, “At B612, we are building the tools to find and track asteroids. We are developing a 3-D dynamical map of the inner solar system and the millions of asteroids we know are out there but have yet to discover.” See yesterday’s post for an explanation of who is doing this work. (Again, it’s not B612).

In a March 2017 email newsletter, Remy reported on “a few milestones already achieved this year.”

Here they are. But whose milestones were they? By whom were they “achieved”?

First was the National Near Earth Object Preparedness Strategy issued by the White House National Science and Technology Council in December 2016. As far as I know, neither B612 nor Asteroid Day played a role in developing this strategy. Itwas the product of hard work by members of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) for Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN), which included some of my colleagues at NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For Remy’s next milestone, she reported, “There has been a noticeable shift in the attitude towards asteroids and planetary defense brought on by increased awareness of NEOs and the risks they present.  B612, we believe, has played a vital role in this increased awareness both through our years of hard work and, more recently, its leading role as a founding partner of Asteroid Day.”

She’s entitled to her opinion, but in my humble opinion, “increased awareness” of NEOs and impact risks” is due at least as much (if not more) to the communication efforts of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness-NEO Coordination Centre NEO Coordination Centre, IAWN and SMPAG activities, and many individual experts in the global small-bodies community.

“Also in our advocacy agenda,” wrote Remy, “is urging the new [U.S.] administration to consider a directed program for an asteroid hunting infrared space telescope not only for its scientific value, but for its direct application in the arenas of defense and homeland security. While you heard from us in January that the NEOCam was not selected for full funding in the Discovery process through NASA, a directed mission would be ideal when considering NEOCam’s broader area of impact.” Again, see yesterday’s blog post for the facts about NEOCam. NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group has advocated strongly and repeatedly for NASA funding of NEOCam.

Remy likes to describe B612 as “asteroid central.” From where I stand, there is no asteroid central. The work of finding, tracking, and characterizing asteroids and informing citizens and decision makers about the asteroid impact hazard is a global, networked enterprise, involving researchers and others in the eastern, western, northern and southern hemispheres. It is the reason why NASA’s PDCO has the word “coordination” in its name. If I had to identify some “central” nodes in the network, they would be the Minor Planet Center, the International Asteroid Warning Network, the PDCO, JPL’s CNEOS, and ESA’s NEO program and NEODys system. These entities are, in my opinion, the most up-to-date and reliable sources of information on NEO observations and impact hazards.

I should note that I myself, as well as NASA colleagues, have communicated with Remy about my concerns. (So have NASA colleagues.) That’s all we can do: try to keep the record straight, and give credit where credit is due.

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One Response to “Who’s doing what in planetary defense, Part 2”

  1. Who’s doing what in planetary defense: further clarification | doctorlinda Says:

    […] readers about who’s doing what in planetary defense. (See my previous blog posts of May 7and May 8on this subject. And for the purposes of disclosure, I am a part-time consultant to NASA’s […]


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