NASA has decided to formalize the process with which the programs in America tracks NEOs, near-Earth Objects, in the hopes of detecting these objects well in advance. The hope is to give the human race an ample amount of time to react and possibly prevent an impact. While still part of the Planetary Science Division of NASA, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, PDCO, is in charge of coordinating the different programs in America as well as the different space agencies around the world.
NASA released this statement on their website, “In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, based on direct observation. The office will also continue to assist with coordination across the U.S. government, participating in the planning for response to an actual impact threat, working in conjunction with FEMA, the Department of Defense, other U.S. agencies and international counterparts.” This communication with FEMA will allow the US government to quickly respond if relocation is necessary.
This move is unprecedented and is being applauded by many different agencies around the world. Gerhard Drolshagen, an associate of the European Space Agency, has said: “We look forward to working with the new Planetary Defense Coordination Office, building on long-standing international and inter-agency cooperation in the domain of NEO detection, risk assessment and mitigation.” These efforts will allow resources to be pooled worldwide in an effort to prevent a similar event as the impact that may have wiped out most of the dinosaurs.
The second Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) will also be completely constructed before the end of this year, which detects asteroids on the smaller end of the scale. This system will allow for the detection of a lot of smaller objects up to a few weeks before contact, which should allow ample time to warn people not to stand near their windows. This information may be used to prevent another meteor, like the Chelyabinsk meteor exploding over Russia, from causing harm to individuals.
This office will allow more collaboration between space agencies and will, hopefully, allow the human race to work together to mitigate some damage while using less resources. Why would two space agencies work on the same detecting process when they can work together? With the PDCO focusing on coordination, this will allow the United States to take up a leadership role in this effort. This is a step in the right direction for passengers on this spaceship we call Earth as humans move further into the age of space and we, collectively, take up the mantle of a space faring species.