According to NASA, they able to find and track most of the nearby asteroids that have the ability to hit and damage the earth, but say that there is not enough money in its budget to get it done within a 15-year deadline mandated by Congress.
Congress asked NASA in 2005 to come up with a plan to track killer asteroids and find ways to deflect them.
According to the NASA report, there are about 20,000 asteroids and comets orbiting relatively close to the Earth that have the ability to do everything from destroy cities to ending all life on the planet.
“We know what to do, we just don’t have the money,” said Simon “Pete” Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The cost to find at least 90 percent of these 20,000 asteroids and comets by the 2020 deadline would be about $1 billion according to the report that will be released later in the week. The report was previewed Monday at a Planetary Defense Conference in Washington.
The objects range from 150 yards to more than a mile in diameter and represent about 20 percent of the asteroids and comets whose paths routinely pass between the sun and the Earth’s orbit.
Accomplishing the task mandated by Congress by 2020 would have NASA using ground-based telescopes sponsored by other agencies that are used for other purposes, building a dedicated observatory for the purpose of finding and tracking the asteroids, and launching a spacecraft to observe the space around Earth from Venus.
Currently, NASA runs a program called the Spaceguard Survey that tracks the largest potential objects that have the potential to destroy most life on Earth. This is what scientists believe caused the dinosaurs to go extinct 65 million years ago. The Spaceguard survey program, which uses ground-based observatories, has a $4.1 million per year budget through 2012.
Donald Yeomans, director of the NASA Spaceguard program, says that there is believed to be 1,100 of these larger objects that and their survey has catalogued about 73 percent of them. It will take until 2010 to reach their initial goal of tracking 90 percent of the objects. This is a year behind schedule according to Yeomans.
According to Yeomans, the goal to survey 90 percent of the potentially harmful asteroids that Congress has mandated can be reached cheaper by NASA if they use only ground-based observatories. Congress, however, would need to change its deadline from 2020 to 2026.