Sunday, March 11, 2007

Misplaced Priorities

Last week, NASA announced that due to lack of funds it would not be able to track asteroids smaller than 3,300 feet wide that could potentially hit Earth. To find and track all of the estimated 22,000 objects greater than 460 feet wide, which could cause major damage if they hit us or exploded in the atmosphere, it would cost the space agency about one billion dollars per year, or roughly what the U.S. spends in half a week in Iraq.

Of all the natural disasters we know about, killer asteroids are among the most devastating, and the one threat we can eliminate. They make the world’s nuclear arsenals look like a bunch of peashooters by comparison, yet we have spent hundreds of times the amount of money needed to counter them by (officially) going after one small country’s imaginary cache of WMD.

The greatest threat to humanity, global warming, is already affecting us, and a new report by world scientists (to be issued in April) spells out just how much worse it can get (a LOT worse). Like with asteroids, NASA’s capabilities will be severely hampered by lack of funds. The president’s budget for the Earth observation program, which uses satellites to provide critical data about climate and weather, is a half-billion dollars short of what is needed to maintain coverage and accuracy over the next ten years.

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