Tuesday morning, the House Science Committee summoned NASA chief Charles Bolden to discuss the possibility of a major asteroid colliding with Earth. There were, probably, many enlightening conversations, but we'll focus on just one, as highlighted by the New York Daily News:
"What would we do if you detected even a small one like the one that detonated in Russia headed for New York in three weeks? What would you do?" Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) asked.
The witnesses turned to look at each other.
"Bend over and what?" Posey pressed, drawing chuckles from the hearing room.
"The answer to you is, if it's coming in three weeks, pray," Bolden said.
Comforting! But why should we pray instead of, say, shooting it from the sky with a laser?
He said Americans might want the government to be able to zap asteroids -but the government has not provided the money to do so.
"We are where we are today because you all told us to do something - and between the Administration and the Congress ... the funding did not come," he said.
Good to know. But if NASA did have the money, what would it be used for? Depends. White House science advisor John Holdren wants to put a satellite in orbit near Venus, to monitor for approaching meteors. Bolden, the NASA guy, supports President Obama's goal of placing real, live astronauts on an actual asteroid by 2025, which is the much cooler and costlier option.
Obama's 2013 budget request sought roughly $20 million for asteroid protection compared to current funding of $4 million a year.
Holdren said that adequate asteroid protection would cost $100 million a year, up to the $2 billion through 2025 sought for the manned asteroid shot.
The hearing was inspired by the meteor that exploded over Russia last month. Speaking of the Russian meteor, witnesses at today's hearing said astronomers were unable to track the 17-meter-wide space rock because it was backlit by the sun, a disclosure that, again, isn't very comforting.