Congress immediately weighed in on Friday.
"Today's events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House science, space and technology committee. He called for a hearing in the coming weeks.
Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said the space agency takes asteroid threats seriously and has poured money into looking for ways to better spot them. Annual spending on asteroid-detection at NASA has gone from $4 million a few years ago to $20 million now.
"NASA has recognized that asteroids and meteoroids and orbital debris pose a bigger problem than anybody anticipated decades ago," Cooke said.
Schweickart's B612 Foundation — named after the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "Le Petit Prince" — has been unwilling to wait on the sidelines and is putting together a privately funded mission to launch an infrared telescope that would orbit the sun to hunt and track asteroids.
Its need cannot be underestimated, Schweickart warned. Real life is unlike movies such as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." Scientists will need to know 15, 20 or 30 years in advance of a killer rock's approach to undertake an effective asteroid-deflection campaign, he said, because it would take a long time for the spacecraft to reach the asteroid for a good nudge.
"That's why we want to find them now," he said.
As Chodas observed Friday, "It's like a shooting gallery here."
Associated Press writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
B612 Foundation: http://b612foundation.org
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