Washington, D.C. – The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing titled, Threats from Space: A Review of U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors. The hearing is the first in a two-part series on what the U.S. is doing to track and monitor Near Earth Objects (NEO) that pose a threat to the planet. It comes one month after an asteroid passed the earth and a meteor exploded over the skies in Russia on the same day. 

Chairman Smith: “The meteor that struck Russia was estimated to be 17 meters, and wasn’t tracked at all.  The smaller they are, the harder they are to spot, and yet they can be life-threatening.  Some space challenges require innovation, commitment and diligence.  This is one of them. 

“Examining and exploring ways to protect the Earth from asteroids and meteors is a priority for the American people and should be a priority for government. We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe.  And this Committee will strive to continue to lead in this area.”

On February 15, 2013, an unforeseen meteor exploded above Russia, releasing the equivalent of about 20 times the explosive energy of an atomic bomb. The blast injured nearly 1,200 people and resulted in an estimated $33 million in property damage. Until it entered our atmosphere, the Russian meteor went completely undetected. On the same day, a larger asteroid discovered by amateur astronomers and tracked closely by NASA passed safely by the Earth, but within the orbital belt of weather satellites.

Today’s hearing provided an overview of the U.S. government’s plans and programs to track, classify and mitigate the threat of NEOs. Witnesses estimated that between 13,000 and 20,000 objects exist that are over 140 meters and considered “near Earth.”  Of those objects, we only have knowledge of and track around 10 percent.  In order to improve on these capabilities, witnesses discussed the need for better international collaboration and more space-borne telescopes to track NEOs. 

A second hearing is planned for April to address international, commercial private sector and philanthropic initiatives to survey the sky for asteroids and comets.

The following witnesses testified today:
The Honorable John P. Holdren, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President
Gen. William L. Shelton, Commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command
The Honorable Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration