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Rohrabacher Bill Looks to the Sky

Just because Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is worried about the sky falling doesn’t make him Chicken Little.

The Golden State Congressman is concerned about the catastrophic effects the impact of a “Near Earth Object” could have on the United States and humankind and believes the federal government is not doing enough to stop such an event.

“It’s happened here before on Earth and it will likely happen again,” Rohrabacher said.

To head off the potential problem, Rohrabacher, who serves on the Science Committee, introduced the Near-Earth Object Survey Act, which would provide NASA with $20 million in 2005 and 2006 to detect, track and catalogue near-Earth asteroids and comets greater than 100 meters in diameter that might cross Earth’s orbit. The bill would also call on NASA to come up with measures to deal with NEOs headed for Earth.

“I think [the funding request is] reasonable, and many of the technologies we are talking about here is stuff that has a lot of dual uses as far as in the field of missile defense,” Rohrabacher said.

According to Rohrabacher, NASA has mapped what it believes to be a majority of civilization-destroying NEOs, but the agency thinks there are thousands of smaller ones that would still destroy a city or a large section of a country if they hit Earth.

“If one of the smaller ones hit, it might just wipe out the Western U.S.,” he said.

Rohrabacher said that the greatest weapon the United States has against asteroids and comets on an impact course is time. “If we find one 10 years away, we could probably stop it or deflect it. If it is close by or only a year or two away, the only thing we could do is pray,” he said.

With the war in Iraq, the economy and homeland security at the forefront of most politicians’ minds, it isn’t surprising that gigantic rocks hurdling around our planetary neighborhood have taken a back seat to more terrestrial issues. Still, Rohrabacher warns that the low probability of such an impact is no excuse for complacency for what he views as an important issue.

“Well, we just had an object that blindsided us and came out of nowhere,” Rohrabacher said in reference to the small but potentially deadly asteroid that remained undetected until it came within a few thousand miles of Earth’s atmosphere this month.

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