Got a NASA patch today! I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the NASA Asteroid Initiative: A Citizens Forum. I definitely learned a lot and as quiet as I usually am, I was eager to join the discussions.
The forum began with a forty minute introductory video that ended with an animation of asteroid discoveries from 1980 – 2010 (see below). Considering the unexpected Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013 and the substantial amount of asteroids that have been discovered, it’s apparent that an asteroid detection (and monitoring) organization is needed, which was one of our topics of discussion. During discussions, I surprisingly found myself NOT rooting for a NASA led asteroid detecting organization. As much I love and admire NASA, the U.S. government shutdown in 2013 reduced staff at NASA by 97% as well as millions of dollars lost for scientific research and in some cases, ruined multi-year research projects. Another government shutdown was threatened at some point this past fall but fortunately, has not yet happened.
We were also presented with background information for scenarios of asteroid detection technologies, asteroid deflection techniques, and future Mars mission priorities. In groups, we discussed and voted on best options.
For future Mars missions, our individual votes were split between continued robot exploration (small cost) and Mars colonization (high cost). Surprisingly, there was little support for astronauts to just visit Mars.
The forum was held at an excellent time, the Rosetta spacecraft, which was launched in March 2004, landed on a comet earlier in the week on Wednesday, November 12th. A few days later, when the forum was held, the Rosetta was still able to do some in situ analysis despite technical set backs – even though the Rosetta successfully landed on its target, it bounced twice and landed on its side onto a shadowy area of the comet. It seemed likely that Rosetta’s mission would be limited to the time that it could operate on battery power (~3 days) and would not be able to recharge through its solar panels. Brilliantly, NASA did account for this scenario and Rosetta would be able to accomplish most of its primary missions on battery power. Due to Rosetta’s setbacks, I advocated for Mars missions that had a human crew so they could compensate for unforeseen technical mishaps. And of course, it would be awesome!
I’m not sure how much weight our opinions carry, but the forum was an opportunity for NASA to gain public opinion and insight. A similar forum was held in Phoenix last week.