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At Last! Near Earth Object Survey Act HR 3813 Introduced in Congress

February 12, 2004 – On February 11, 2004, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, (CA) introduced the "George R. Brown Near-Earth Object Survey Act " in the House of Representatives.

The purpose of the bill is to provide for "a Near-Earth Object survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize certain near-earth asteroids and comets."

Section 2 of the bill states the following findings:

1. Near-Earth objects pose a serious and credible threat to mankind, as scientists are certain that a major asteroid or comet was responsible for the mass extinction of the majority of the Earth's species, including dinosaurs, nearly 65,000,000 years ago.

(and the greater mass extinction 250 million years ago as well. RH)
2. Similar objects have struck the Earth or passed through the Earth's atmosphere several times in the Earth's history and pose a similar threat in the future.

(The more than 139 craters on Earth (with 93 between 3 and 124 MILES in diameter) prove NEOs are serious threats to our global and national security. RH)
3. Several such near-Earth objects have only been discovered within days of the objects’ closest approach to Earth, and recent discoveries of such large objects indicate that many large near-Earth remain undiscovered.

(In 2002, three objects passed too close for comfort. Two were only discovered several days AFTER they went past. Highly respected astronomers estimate that
there are many thousands of undetected NEOs, each larger than 100 meters. RH)

4. The efforts taken to date by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for detecting and characterizing the hazards of Earth orbit-crossing asteroids and comets are not sufficient to the threat posed by such objects to cause widespread destruction and loss of life.

Section 4 of the act states that (a) "The Administrator (of NASA) shall plan, develop, and implement a Near-Earth Object Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth asteroids and comets equal to or greater than 100 meters in diameter in order to assess the threat of such near-Earth objects in striking the Earth.

Included in Section 4 (g) " The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the United States require that the unique competence of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in science and engineering systems to be directed to detecting, tracking, cataloguing and characterizing near-Earth asteroids and comets in order to provide warning and mitigation of the potential hazard of such near-Earth objects impacting the Earth…"

The act requires accountability specifying that the efforts of NASA be monitored by Congress. "The administrator shall transmit to the Congress, not later than February 28 of each of the next 5 years beginning after the date of enactment of this Act, a report that provides…" a summary of all activities mentioned in subsection (a) for the previous fiscal year; and a summary of amounts paid for all activities pursuant to subsection (a) for the previous year; and that a "detailed plan and budget" be submitted for five future years.

The act includes a "line item" appropriation of $20 million for each of the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. At last this is what astronomers at observatories and the Minor Planet Center need to adequately fund projects and prepare to deal with the threats from Near Earth Objects. We commend Representative Dana Rohrabacher for his foresight and look forward to many other Representatives signing on as co-sponsors to HR 3813. We believe the companion Senate bill will be introduced soon.

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