CCNet 30/2001, 26 February 2001
"The British government issued a response Saturday to a task force
report on the threat posed by near-Earth asteroids and comets, concurring
with many of the recommendations in the report but promising little in
the way of immediate, concrete action. [...] Beyond the four-point
package, however, the government response contained few specific proposals
--Jeff Foust, Spaceflight Now, 26 February 2001
"Dangerously large asteroids are thought to strike Earth once every
1,000 years. But Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, who announced the
measures at the weekend, is not committed to building the super
telescope. He has asked Britain's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council to cost the options outlined by the task force."
--Claire Breithaupt, Daily Post, 26 February 2001
(1) BRITISH GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO NEO TASK FORCE REPORT
Spaceflight Now, 26 February 2001
(2) CITY TO FIGHT SPACE INVADER
The Daily Post, 26 February 2001
(3) BRITAIN LEADS DEFENCE AGAINST ASTEROID IMPACT
The Sunday Telegraph, 25 February 2001
(4) BRITAIN ON ALERT FOR DISASTER FROM SPACE
The Observer, 25 February 2001
(5) AUSTRALIA LOSES ASTRONOMY INITIATIVE ON SPACEGUARD
Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(6) SIR ARTHUR'S REACTION TO GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT
Sir Arthur C Clarke
(7) BRITISH NEO COMMUNITY IN BETTER POSITION THAN TWO YEARS AGO
Alan Fitzsimmons <A.Fitzsimmons@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK>
(8) CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT UK GOVERNMENT ACTION?
Michael Paine <email@example.com>
(9) MARK SONTER ON UK AND AUSTRALIAN SPACEGUARD INITIATIVES
Mark Sonter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(10) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: UK GOVERNMENT SPENDING PRIORITIES
Michael Paine <email@example.com>
(11) THE DON
Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>
(12) AND FINALLY: CLARIFICATION OF THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE, FOR SPEAKERS
OF ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(2) BRITISH GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO NEO TASK FORCE REPORT
From Spaceflight Now, 26 February 2001
BY JEFF FOUST
The British government issued a response Saturday to a task force report on
the threat posed by near-Earth asteroids and comets, concurring with many of
the recommendations in the report but promising little in the way of
immediate, concrete action.
Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, in an official response to a report
published last September by a government-backed task force, described what
he called a "four-point package" that leans heavily on proposals for
international cooperation in the search for near-Earth objects (NEOs) that
could impact the Earth.
"The potential threat of asteroids and other near-Earth objects to our
planet is an international problem requiring international action," Lord
Sainsbury said in a statement Saturday. "The UK through the measures
announced today can play an important part in how the international
community tackles this potential problem."
Those measures include plans by the UK's Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council (PPARC) to review how British telescopes can be used to
discover and monitor NEOs. In addition, Lord Sainsbury said that the British
National Space Centre will be the government organization responsible for
coordinating NEO policy in the UK.
The international action Lord Sainsbury referred to includes plans by the
European Space Agency to hold a meeting on the subject this summer to
discuss a broader European role in the NEO search. The Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 large
industrialized countries that includes many western European countries,
Japan, and the United States, is also considering setting up a forum to
discuss the NEO threat.
Beyond the four-point package, however, the government response contained
few specific proposals or plans. One exception was a statement that the UK
was discussing proposals with the European Southern Observatory, a
multinational consortium Britain is in the process of joining, to either
build a 3-meter telescope or refurbish an existing 2- to 4-meter telescope
in Chile and devote it to NEO searches. Plans for such a telescope would be
considered as part of PPARC's broader review of British astronomical
The three-person task force, created by the British government last year to
study the NEO threat, issued 14 recommendations dealing not only with
searching and tracking NEOs but also "mitigation" issues, such as ways to
deflect an object on an impact trajectory or dealing with the aftermath of a
NEO impact. The mitigation recommendations were largely glossed over in the
government response, saying it was premature to deal with them until the NEO
population and any threat they pose is better understood.
"The Government takes the view that the first priority for the UK and its
international partners should be to find, track and characterize near-Earth
objects in order to gain a greater understanding of the nature of the NEO
threat," the response noted. "The complex and controversial issue of
mitigating their effects can then be addressed."
The lack of specific initiatives in the government response was criticized
by some in Britain who had expected the government to take more action.
"Today's response by Her Majesty's Government to the NEO Task Force Report
is disappointing and falls short of what was widely expected," said Benny
Peiser, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University and moderator of
the Cambridge Conference Network, an electronic mailing list whose members
include many prominent NEO researchers worldwide. "It was perhaps too
optimistic to hope that the Government would implement all of the Task
Force's 14 recommendations. But the failure to announce any significant
action -- or indeed any financial commitment -- is unsatisfactory."
"Disappointingly he [Lord Sainsbury] failed to announce any substantive
action beyond the establishment of further studies and the holding of talks
with various national and international bodies," said Jonathan Tate,
director of Spaceguard UK, an organization that promotes continued study
into the NEO impact threat. "There is the possibility that these may provide
the basis for a British project at some time in the future, but a golden
opportunity for the UK to take a world lead is in danger of being lost."
Tate used the government response as an opportunity to announce the
formation of an independent Spaceguard Centre, to be set up at the former
Powys Observatory in Wales. "The role of the Spaceguard Centre will be to
provide an educational resource for the public, schools and the media, at
the same time acting as an interface between the scientific community and
the media to ensure the rapid and accurate passage of information," he
explained. The creation of such a center was included in the task force¹s
recommendations, but the government in its response said only that it would
look into options for establishing it.
"The establishment of an independent National Spaceguard Centre, as
announced by Spaceguard UK today, ensures that the public will remain
thoroughly informed on NEO research and planetary defense issues," said
Peiser, endorsing the Spaceguard UK announcement. "It will also continue to
lobby the Government in order to ensure that the vague promises made today
will be followed by concrete action."
© 2001 Pole Star Publications
(3) CITY TO FIGHT SPACE INVADER
From The Daily Post, 26 February 2001
by Claire Breithaupt, Daily Post
LIVERPOOL could be at the forefront of a European fight to protect the world
The Government has launched a major early warning programme which experts
believe will involve the creation of a giant telescope.
Other measures mentioned in the Government announcement include monitoring
of space objects approaching Earth, preparations for evacuation and
international co-operation to find methods of directing larger objects away
from the planet.
They follow a report by a Government task force last year which recommended
that the Government should seek partners to build an advanced telescope -
possibly in the Southern hemisphere - to keep watch for near-Earth objects.
Liverpool is the only city with the knowledge and the expertise to build the
£10m super telescope, say experts.
John Moores University's Telescope Technologies Ltd (TTL) - a subsidiary of
the university - is the only company in the UK capable of producing such a
telescope, according to Spaceguard UK, a group of experts and astronomers.
Now campaigners are calling on the Government to specify whether it will go
as far as commissioning the high-powered telescope with a three-metre mirror
and build it in Liverpool.
Spaceguard UK spokesman Dr Benny Peiser said: "If a new telescope were to be
commissioned, Liverpool would be the place - that goes without saying. We
are not competing with anyone else.
"It would appear from yesterday's announcement that Britain is conditioning
its final decision on whether European partners agree to do it with us, but
we feel that Britain should lead the way.
"TTL are the only people in the UK - and perhaps in Europe - with the
expertise to build professional large-scale telescopes.
"Merseyside would become the leading producer of these high-technology
telescopes across the world."
Dangerously large asteroids are thought to strike Earth once every 1,000
But Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, who announced the measures at the
weekend, is not committed to building the super telescope.
He has asked Britain's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to
cost the options outlined by the task force.
The Government has said it will announce its decision later this year.
Lord Sainsbury said: "The potential threat of asteroids and other near-Earth
objects to our planet is an international problem requiring international
action. The UK can play an important part in how the international community
tackles this potential problem."
© 2001 Trinity Mirror Digital Media Limited or its licensors.
MODERATOR'S NOTE: Interesting, isn't it? Or how often does it happen that an
asteroid story makes the frontpage headline in The Daily Post the morning
after Liverpool FC won a Cup final? :-)
(4) BRITAIN LEADS DEFENCE AGAINST ASTEROID IMPACT
From The Sunday Telegraph, 25 February 2001
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
BRITISH scientists are to take the lead in international action against the
threat of asteroid impacts.
Government plans announced yesterday will commit the UK to a monitoring
programme to spot asteroids on a potential collision course with the Earth.
Last year a scientific task force urged action after drawing attention to
the threat of half-mile-wide chunks of rock smashing into the Earth, causing
hundreds of millions of deaths. Such impacts are thought to occur, on
average, every 100,000 years.
The Near Earth Object (NEO) Task Force called for the building of a
telescope dedicated to finding asteroids on course for the Earth, and the
Government has accepted the need for a three-metre telescope capable of
detecting even relatively small rocks.
Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, said yesterday that the Government was
seeking to give Britain a key role in tackling the global threat. He said:
"This is clearly an international issue and I think that what we can do is
provide a lead." As well as committing the UK to the monitoring programme,
Lord Sainsbury said that the Government would draw up plans for minimising
casualties in the event of an NEO impact.
The minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will be going ahead
with the monitoring programme and putting into place facilities to
communicate with the public. If it is not a large object, there is always a
possibility of moving people from the area that it is going to hit on the
Earth and we do potentially have the opportunity to deflect it."
Scientists pressing for action gave the plans a cautious welcome. Duncan
Steel, an NEO expert at Salford University, said: "This means that Britain
is setting the international ball rolling on this issue but it's
disappointing that no action is being taken immediately on setting up the
Astronomers believe that they have identified only about half the many
hundreds of half-mile-wide asteroids. According to Dr Steel, it will take
another 15 years at current rates to find 90 per cent of all the
half-mile-wide NEOs and at least 25 years to locate the rest.
Dr Steel said: "What's been announced is a start, but back in 1992 it was
clear that what we need is a global network of six big telescopes - three in
each hemisphere - that can find these objects and track them long enough to
work out their orbits." Other astronomers cautioned that the Government had
tied its commitment to the monitoring programme to funding priorities. One
said: "At least the impact issue seems to have lost some of the giggle
Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP who launched the campaign to have the
asteroid danger taken seriously in March 1999, welcomed the Government
announcement: "[It] puts the UK at the forefront of asteroid impact
avoidance. This is a very exciting time for British science in general, and
British astronomy in particular."
The Government's commitment came a day after American scientists unveiled
plans to build a giant telescope to search for threatening asteroids. Known
as the Large-Aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope, the 6.5-metre-class optical
telescope would cost about £100 million and detect 90 per cent of NEOs in a
range of sizes right down to those just a few hundred metres across
Copyright 2001, The Daily Telegraph
(5) BRITAIN ON ALERT FOR DISASTER FROM SPACE
From The Observer, 25 February 2001
Robin McKie, Science Editor
BRITAIN is to spearhead a European programme aimed at protecting Earth from
global destruction caused by asteroid collisions. Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury yesterday revealed that the Government takes the threat to our
planet so seriously that it is to implement a series of measures to save the
The proposals include:
* Fitting all European probes with asteroid detectors;
* Building a giant telescoope dedicated to hunting these objects;
* Fitting existing telescopes with special asteroid detection software;
* Creating an international flotilla of probes for studying the nearby
'The potential threat of asteroids to our planet is an international problem
requiring international action,' said Sainsbury. He pledged to implement
many recommendations of last year's report of the Near Earth Object Task
However, the announcement has triggered a bitter inter-departmental row
among civil servants. Although scientists, backed by the Department of Trade
and Industry, have pledged to find errant asteroids, the Home Office has
refused to implement any extra measures to protect the nation against such
'The original task force report warned that the UK faced particular danger
from tidal waves that would be triggered by large rocks plunging into the
Atlantic or North Sea, and recommended ways to protect the country from such
inundation,' said one civil servant.
'But all the Home Office has said is that it already has "contingency
arrangements in place". In other words, when Armageddon arrives all we will
able to do is send a policeman on a bicycle. It is utterly ridiculous.'
The threat of an asteroid collision is now taken seriously by most
astronomers, who point out that our planet is struck regularly by objects
from outer space. The best recorded of these events occurred in 1908 when a
small asteroid, about 300ft in diameter, exploded high above the Tun guska
river valley in Siberia, producing a brilliant blue fireball that knocked
people off their feet 40 miles away, and flattened millions of trees.
It is thought similar-sized objects hit Earth every 100 years. Larger
objects are fortunately rarer. For example, the asteroid that destroyed the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago was probably a few miles in diameter. The
event known as The Great Dying, in which 90 per cent of marine species and
70 per cent of land animals were killed 250 million years ago, is now
thought to have been caused by an eight-mile-wide asteroid plunging into
With the development of space rockets and nuclear bombs, however, Earth now
has a chance to avoid such impacts. To date, only the United States has
considered the risk serious enough to launch Near Earth Object surveys. 'I
think there will be great relief in the United States that
we are joining in,' said one UK astronomer. 'They were beginning to feel a
bit silly about being the only ones to take the asteroid threat seriously.'
The UK initiative has already had an impact on European space programmes. It
has been decided that two missions, the Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury, and
Gaia, a probe to map stars, should be fitted with asteroid-spotting
However, Sainsbury has not committed himself to the main recommendation of
the task force, which was to build a three-metre asteroid-spotting
telescope, at a probable cost of more than £10 million. Instead, he has
asked Britain's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to appoint a
senior astronomer to cost the options outlined by the task force.
The Government is to begin talks with other members of the European Space
Agency to build a series of space probes that would land on asteroids and
study their structure. 'The crucial point is to know what asteroids are made
of,' said a British National Space Centre official.
'Some may just be great piles of ash or stone. If you tried to nudge them
off course with a nuclear bomb, you could end up spreading the thing all
over the place and actually make things worse
Copyright 2001, The Observer
(6) AUSTRALIA LOSES ASTRONOMY INITIATIVE ON SPACEGUARD
From Michael Paine <email@example.com>
This is a sad day for Australian astronomy.
In a press release dated 19 September 2000
http://www4.tpg.com.au/users/tps-seti/spacegd3.html#pr000919 we warned that
the UK government was looking at options for implementing the
recommendations of its Near Earth Object Task Force and that, if Australia
did not show an interest, the UK would likely locate a new Spaceguard
telescope in Chile.
The UK government has just released its response to the Task Force report
http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk/government_response.cfm. Although a final
decision has not yet been made on the southern hemisphere telescope the
"In November 2000 the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced
that the UK intended to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO) whose
telescopes are in the southern hemisphere. ESO has indicated that it is
interested in exploring with the UK the possibility that a 3 metre-class
telescope could be made available at its observing sites in Chile."
There now appears to be no prospect of the Spaceguard telescope being
located in Australia. This is likely to have grave repercussions for other
fields of astronomy in Australia.
The Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO) has been in operation in Australia
for decades and will no doubt continue its high standard of astronomy. The
AAO astronomers will likely put on a brave face over this UK announcement
but, in the long-term, it is inevitable that the UK will wind down its
contribution to AAO as it puts more of its resources into ESO.
The Australian government's indifference to the asteroid threat is
jeopardising the future of Australian astronomy as well as making Australia
a pariah nation in the eyes of the international scientific community (these
words were recently used by author and scientist Paul Davies to describe the
Australian government's dismal record on Spaceguard)
The Planetary Society Australia Volunteers
Phone 02 94514870 Fax 02 99753966 email firstname.lastname@example.org
The British report can be downloaded from
The main conclusions of the report are:
* Impacts by asteroids and comets present a real and significant risk to
humans and other life on Earth
* Means now exist to avoid or reduce the fatalities caused by such
impacts but only if the threatening objects are detected well in advance
of the collision.
* Search programs should give priority to "Near Earth Asteroids" (NEAs)
down to 300 m diameter rather than the 1 kilometer goal adopted by NASA.
* Earth-based telescope systems can carry out most of the necessary
detection and follow-up work but they will need to be larger than those
of current NEA detection systems.
* Britain should contribute to a major new telescope facility in the
Southern Hemisphere to make up for the lack of a professional search
effort in southern skies.
More information about the asteroid threat is available from The
Planetary Society Australian Volunteers website:
THIS WEBSITE IS LISTED AS A USEFUL REFERENCE IN THE BRITISH REPORT.
The woeful responses from the Australian government on this issue are at:
(7) SIR ARTHUR'S REACTION TO GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT
From Sir Arthur C Clarke
Exhausted after whole day with Buzz and Lois Aldrin - hours of press
Now getting two or three requests a day and really have nothing new
to say on Spaceguard (though I wish they'd mention where the name
originated!) Really the whole situation is summed up with Larry Nivens' "The
Dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space programme." It
will serve us right if we suffer the same fate.
Arthur 26 Feb. `01.
(8) BRITISH NEO COMMUNITY IN BETTER POSITION THAN TWO YEARS AGO
From Alan Fitzsimmons <A.Fitzsimmons@Queens-Belfast.AC.UK>
While I understand some of Jonathan Tate's disappointment over the UK
government response, particularly in not funding a dedicated new survey
facility, I think that he is being a bit pessimistic.
First, as Duncan Steel points out in his letter, the government has
undertaken to raise the issue with other European governments through
various routes. Recommendations 1,3,6 and others of the Taskforce requested
Second, it is hardly surprising that the government did not just announce a
big pot of cash for telescopes on Saturday. While the Taskforce recommended
the use of already funded/built telescopes, they were not asked to provide
fully costed options for doing so. I may be wrong, but
I do not know of any Western government who would hand over a large amount
of cash without seeing a full justification for that amount. That the
government has asked PPARC to provide such a costing may actually mean they
are prepared to make such monies available.
To my mind, the most disappointing thing is that it is not clear whether the
final recommendation, to perform a feasibility study of the potential remit
and funding of a UK NEO Centre, is going ahead. Although it may be just poor
wording, a "look into the options available"
may not be the same as a full-scale feasibility study. However, even here
the summary of the response clearly states that the "measures
include...setting up a UK facility to provide information and education on
NEOs". Hopefully this will become more clear in the near future.
All in all, I believe that the future in the UK is rosier than some people
suggest. The UK position today is much better than even two years ago,
thanks to the continuing efforts of people like Mark Bailey at Armagh
Observatory, lobbying groups such as Spaceguard UK, and of course the
Taskforce. As with Duncan, I don't think its going to end here.
Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons Tel: 02890-273124
APS Division Fax: 02890-438918
Dept. of Pure & Applied Physics e-mail: email@example.com
Queen's University of Belfast WWW: http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~af/
Belfast BT7 1NN
(9) CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT UK GOVERNMENT ACTION?
From Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Duncan Steel, CCNet Special: "One must have optimism that this will lead
eventually to action being taken at the appropriate level, given the
magnitude of the NEO impact hazard."
Duncan has remarkable optimism given his experience in Australia
("Spaceguard Australia" was terminated by the Australian government in
The lesson here is that we cannot just present facts - the politicians need
to be lobbied so they become uncomfortable with inaction. Not that we have
been particularly successful in Australia with this approach - the Howard
government is proving to be extremely insular to public
opinion on many issues (how odd - they call themselves Liberals but my
dictionary lists illiberal as a synonym for "insular").
I agree that we need an international approach to a global problem. The
difficulty is finding a mechanism for getting the issue raised and acted on
at an international political level. Not being "science", "defence" or
"humanitarian", it does not seem to fit into an existing pidgeonhole (also
the problem at a national level).
(10) MARK SONTER ON UK AND AUSTRALIAN SPACEGUARD INITIATIVES
From Mark Sonter <email@example.com>
Both the Australian government and the UK government responses are less than
one might have hoped for (particularly so the Australian). But their
responses are not unexpected, and the pollies will mostly be driven by (a)
the advice of their advisors, (b) legal necessity, (c) major voter demand
requiring response. (This is Jay Tate's sermon.) And the advisors would have
taken 'soundings' of the mainstream astronomy community scale of interest,
which is still not much. In fact, if the astronomy community really wanted a
change, surely it would come about....Anyway, there's not much point beating
our breasts over it.
As several of you guys know better than me, governments are no longer the
secure source of patronage they once were. That means we have to search
Question is, what other avenues are available? I have asked earlier, what's
the chance of a volunteer organisation making real contributions, either to
NEO search activities or to other related studies? (such as Michael Paine's
tsunami work, and his website; or Jay Tate's decision to go it alone with a
private UK Spaceguard, or the meteor observer work of years gone by) What
about an e-mail server serving all students of any aspect of the NEO ident/
space mission / characterize / deflect / impact analysis / civil defence
arena? -Well, I know that's what Benny does, but I guess the question is,
how does one expand it, make it more integrative, more solutions oriented?
With e-mail, one could contemplate an e-conference following up on the 1995
Earth Impact Threat Conference....What other sources of patronage might
there be? (eg., international corporations: some are as big economically as
small to medium size nation states) If / when we get interest in space
mining ignited, then funding troubles will go away. What about media
companies? -I sometimes think Benny's Peisergrams could almost make a
scientific thriller serial script!
I apologize, because I'm sure you have all gone through this train of
thought before, but can we have a brainstorm?? -fewer negative thoughts,
albeit understandable, and more 'possibility thinking'!
Just had to put in my 5 cents' worth!
(11) UNDER THE BOTTOM LINE: UK GOVERNMENT SPENDING PRIORITIES
From Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
While checking for a Times report on the NEO Task Force announcement I came
across the following. Nice to see the UK government getting its spending
priorities sorted out! Maybe there should be a worldwide levy on executive
payouts - say 5% goes towards funding Spaceguard. Then we would be swimming
BBC spends £2m to pay off bosses
THE BBC has spent up to £2m in licence money on a boardroom clear-out to
paving the way for Greg Dyke's own team. Three directors who were in
competition with Dyke for the post of director-general are among five
executives granted packages of up to £400,000 each for leaving.
(12) THE DON
From Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>
Those readers interested in cricket (doubtless the majority of CCNet
subscribers) will have been sad to hear of the death of Sir Donald Bradman,
the greatest batsman of all time. Despite the fact that all three of use are
'poms' by birth (and thus originate from Australia's great cricketing
enemy), a few years back Brian Marsden, Gareth Williams and myself were
pleased to suggest that The Don's name should be attached to an asteroid.
(2472) Bradman perpetuates his memory amongst cricket-loving astronomers
(and maybe astronomy-loving cricketers too).
(13) AND FINALLY: CLARIFICATION OF THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE, FOR SPEAKERS
OF ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
From E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
Hello Benny -
As I revealed in an earlier note, in a previous life I used to cover
the space program of the Soviet Union and then of its successor states. The
culmination of my work in this area was to have been a history of
cosmonautics, but a little over 3 years ago I seem to have become
side-tracked into studying the obscure subject of stuff from space hitting
the Earth and killing extremely large numbers of people...
While assembling this history I had to wade through documents and
pronouncements of many governments, including not only those the United
States, but also those of the Central Committees of both the Soviet Union
and China (you wanna talk about bureaucratese, hoo boy), as well as a few
select European documents, including some from Nazi Germany.
While scientists in other countries where English is not the primary
language have bureaucrats who work in bureaucracies speaking bureaucratese
all of their own, the dialects of which I'm quite sure these scientists are
all too completely familiar with, I'm also quite sure that they're not fully
fluent in that particular dialect of bureaucratese used by the UK
government. Thus I thought that perhaps it would speed things along if I
could provide them with an easier to understand version of the Blair
government's response to the NEO Task Force's recommendations. It is clear
that the government does not understand quite what they are going to have to
do yet, and their response meandered, so it has also been necesary as well
to slightly re-organize their response in order to make it clearer.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE ON POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS
NEAR EARTH OBJECTS
[ANNOTATED FOR SPEAKERS OF ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE]
24 February 2001
E.P. Grondine firstname.lastname@example.org
[THE ANNOUCEMENT OF THE RESPONSE AND ITS MAIN POINT]
Lord Sainsbury announced today (24 February) the Government response to the
report of the Near Earth Objects Task Force, chaired by Dr Harry Atkinson.
In publishing the Government's response, Lord Sainsbury said, "The
Government endorses the view of the Task Force that since the possible
dangers posed by Near Earth Objects are not limited to any one nation, an
international approach is essential.". [THIS GOVERMENT HAS NO INTENTION OF
PICKING UP THE ENTIRE BILL FOR THIS EFFORT ALL BY ITSELF.]
In January 2000, following discussions in Parliament and approaches from
members of the public, the Government announced the setting up of a Task
Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects. [THERE WERE A COUPLE OF
MAJOR HOLLYWOOD MOVIES, "ARMAGEDDON" AND "DEEP IMPACT", WHICH SHOWED LARGE
NUMEBRS OF PEOPLE BEING KILLED BY IMPACT, AND IT TURNED OUT THAT THEY
WEREN'T ENTIRELY SCIENCE FICTION. THEN, DUE TO SOME INADEQUATE ANNOUNCEMENTS
OF ASTRONOMICAL CALCULATIONS, FOR SEVERAL DAYS IT LOOKED LIKE THE EARTH WAS
GOING TO GET SMACKED AGAIN QUITE SOON. THE VOTERS WERE BEGINNING TO GET
UPSET, AND FINALLY A MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT WHO IS A RELATIVE OF ERNST OPIK
MANAGED TO GET A GOVERNMENT TASK FORCE SET UP.]
Dr Harry Atkinson, formerly of the Science and Engineering Research Council
(SERC) and former Chairman of the European Space Agency's Council, was
invited to lead the Task Force. He was assisted by Sir Crispin Tickell,
British diplomat, and Professor David Williams, former President of the
Royal Astronomical Society. [SO AS TO DELAY THE NECESSITY OF MAKING ANY
RESPONSE OR OF HAVING TO TAKE THE MATTER SERIOUSLY, WE FOUND SEVERAL PEOPLE
WITH LIMITED EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD, SO THAT THE ASTRONOMERS WOULD HAVE TO
EDUCATE THEM BEFORE THE TASK FORCE COULD ISSUE ANY REPORT.] The Task Force
was invited to make proposals to the Government on how the United Kingdom
should best contribute to international effort on Near Earth Objects, and to
advise the Government on what further action to take.
After extensive consultation with interested parties and the scientific
community both nationally and internationally, the Task Force published its
report on 18 September 2000. The report is available at
http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk. The Government would like to take this
opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work the Task Force has done in
getting to grips with this complex issue. [THE RESULT WAS THAT THE TASK
FORCE SAID THAT THERE REALLY IS A PROBLEM, BUT WE DIDN'T LIKE THEIR
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM, SO WE STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.]
Their well-prepared report is the first comprehensive review, as far as we
are aware, of this challenging subject. [THE AMERICANS AND THE RUSSIANS
DIDN'T INVITE US TO THE FIRST SPE MEETINGS.] The report has been well
received both in the UK and internationally and has already played an
important role in raising international awareness of the potential threat.
[HEY - WE WEREN'T THE ONLY GOVERNMENT SURPRISED TO FIND OUT WE HAD A
Having considered the report, the Government's view is that since the
possible dangers posed by Near Earth Objects are not limited to any one
nation, an international approach to the problem is essential. [IN CASE YOU
DIDN'T UNDERSTAND US WHEN WE TOLD YOU THIS THE FIRST TIME, THIS GOVERNMENT
HAS NO INTENTION OF PICKING UP THE BILL FOR DEALING WITH THIS PROBLEM ALL BY
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATI0N 9 - We recommend that the Government, with
other governments, set in hand studies to look into the practical
possibilities of mitigating the results of impact and deflecting incoming
OUR RESPONSE - There is currently a scarcity of precise knowledge about the
exact nature of the NEO threat. [WE DIDN'T LIKE WHAT THE EXPERTS TOLD US, SO
WE LISTENED TO PEOPLE LESS FAMILIAR WITH THE PROBLEM SO WE COULD FUDGE THE
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 8 - We recommend that the Government should
help promote multi-disciplinary studies of the consequences of impacts from
Near Earth Objects on the Earth in British and European institutions
concerned, including the Research Councils, universities and the European
OUR RESPONSE - The Government has drawn the attention of the Research
Councils to the Task Force's report and the importance of multi-disciplinary
studies of this nature. [AMAZING - THE BOFFINS ACTUALLY THOUGHT THAT WE
MIGHT SPEND MONEY DEFINING THIS PROBLEM. IN FACT, AS LONG AS NO ONE KNOWS
ANYTHING ABOUT IT, THERE ISN'T ANY PROBLEM - AND WITH NO PROBLEM, THERE
ISN'T ANYTHING WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO.]
Funding for high quality scientific proposals of interdisciplinary studies
related to impact consequences is already available through the Research
Councils' peer review process. [IF THESE PEOPLE WANT MORE MONEY, THEY ARE
GOING TO HAVE TO GET IT FROM EACH OTHER. LET THEM FIGHT AMONGST THEMSELVES -
THAT OUGHT TO HOLD THEM UP FOR A WHILE.]
In addition, the UK's Natural Environment Research Council makes a small
contribution to the European Science Foundation's multidisciplinary IMPACT
programme, looking at "the nature of impacts and their impact on nature".
[WE'RE ALREADY SENDING MONEY ACROSS THE CHANNEL - WHY THE BLAZES DON'T THEY
TRY AND GET SOME OF THAT BACK?]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 14 - We recommend that one of the most
important functions of a British Centre for Near Earth Objects be to provide
a public service which would give balanced information in clear, direct and
comprehensible language as need might arise. Such a service must respond to
very different audiences: on the one hand Parliament, the general public and
the media; and on the other the academic, scientific and environmental
communities. In all of this, full use should be made of the Internet. As a
first step, the Task Force recommends that a feasibility study be
established to determine the functions, terms of reference and funding for
such a Centre.
OUR RESPONSE - At this stage, the Government foresees that a key role for
such a facility would be to act as a showcase for the public on NEO issues,
providing clear and balanced information and hence assisting in the public
understanding of science. The Government will look into the options
available for developing such a centre. [YES, WE WILL EXAMINE THE OPTIONS,
AND WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER, WE WILL BUILD THE CENTRE ON THE ICE, IF ITS
FEASABLE. WHAT PART OF THIS DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND: IF THERE IS NO PROBLEM,
WE DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT - AND HOPEFULLY THE VOTERS WILL FORGET
'ARMAGEDDON' AND 'DEEP IMPACT' BY THE TIME WE GET AROUND TO NOT DOING
ANYTHING, OR AT LEAST BY THE NEXT ELECTION.]
[CONTINUING WITH THE RESPONSE TO ITEM 8 - RECOMMENDATIONS ON MITIGATION ]
Mitigating any impact by deflection would appear to be a more attractive
option than break-up, since the latter might well result in a greater number
of smaller NEOs to cope with world-wide. [WHILE WE DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW
ANYTHING ABOUT NUCLEAR CHARGES OR ASTEROID OR COMETARY COMPOSITION, WE
DEFINITELY DO WANT THE VOTERS TO BELIEVE THAT IT IS GOING TO BE POSSIBLE TO
DIVERT ONE OF THESE THINGS WITHOUT USING H-BOMBS.]
Discussions of this global problem with the US Department of Defense, NASA,
ESA and the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) have thus far
provided no clear position on what should be done, [YOU CAN'T BLAME US
ENTIRELY, SINCE NO ONE ELSE KNOWS WHAT TO DO EITHER.], although it is clear
that the highest priority lies in the provision of improved observation to
provide the maximum possible warning time [EVERYONE PRETTY MUCH AGREES THAT
WE CAN GIVE THE ASTRONOMERS SOME MONEY, WITHOUT HAVING THE ANTI-NUKE
GREENIES P***ING ON OUR DOORSTEPS].
Options for deflecting NEOs range from the launch of small spacecraft many
years in advance of the predicted impact date to rendezvous with the NEO to
gently "nudge" it away from its collision course [WE DON'T WANT TO SCARE
PEOPLE, SO WE'RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO PRETEND WE AREN'T GOING TO HAVE TO USE
NUCLEAR CHARGES TO STOP ONE OF THESE THINGS], through to last minute
deflection using high energy explosive devices, the use of which would need
to be very carefully considered. [HOPEFULLY THIS CONSIDERATION WILL BE DONE
BY SOME OTHER GOVERNMENT THAN OUR OWN AT SOME TIME WELL INTO THE FUTURE -
GOD KNOWS WE HAVE ENOUGH TO DO ALREADY].
In relation to mitigation, the Home Office has studied the possible
consequences of emergencies of this sort, and contingency arrangements are
already in place. These involve local agencies (principally the police, fire
and ambulance with local authorities and health providers), who plan, train,
and exercise together so that any response is co-ordinated. An impact in the
UK from a NEO would be dealt with under these arrangements. [WE'RE GOING TO
ASSUME THAT ANY IMPACT WHICH OCCURS WILL BE SMALL ENOUGH THAT THERE WILL BE
POLICEMEN, FIREMEN, HEALTH WORKERS, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS LEFT
ALIVE AFTERWARDS - AND IF THERE AREN'T, WELL IN THAT CASE IT SIMPLY WON'T BE
OUR PROBLEM THEN, WILL IT?]
If the level of threat were identified as being significant (in time and
magnitude), specific arrangements would need to be put in place. These would
fall under the aegis of the Civil Contingencies Committee, a committee of
Ministers and senior officials chaired by the Home Secretary or senior Home
Office official. [IF THE PEOPLE SHOULD SOMEHOW LEARN THAT ONE OF THESE
THINGS IS COMING, WE CERTAINLY DON'T WANT THEM RIOTING.]
The Government takes the view that the first priority for the UK and its
international partners should be to find, track, and characterize Near Earth
Objects in order to gain a greater understanding of the nature of the NEO
threat. The complex and controversial issue of mitigating their effects can
then be addressed. [WHILE WE REALLY DON'T HAVE ANY IDEA AT ALL HOW TO GO
ABOUT DEVELOPING THE NUCLEAR EXPLOSIVE DEVICES THAT ARE GOING TO BE NEEDED
TO STOP ONE OF THESE THINGS, WE CERTAINLY DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, AND
MAYBE IF WE GIVE THE ASTRONOMERS SOME MONEY THAT WILL SHUT THEM UP.]
Many of the report's scientific recommendations on the need to find, track,
and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are inter-related. The UK's
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, PPARC, has undertaken to
use the expertise available in its scientific community to produce costed
options analysing the most effective way of implementing the telescope-based
recommendations as a group (recommendations 1, 2, 4 and 5). [THANKFULLY THE
BOFFINS ON THE TASK FORCE GAVE US OPTIONS, AND WHILE PPARC IS FIGURING OUT
WHICH ONE OF THEM IS THE CHEAPEST ONE, WE WON'T HAVE TO SPEND ANY MONEY AT
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 1 - We recommend that the Government should
seek partners, preferably in Europe, to build in the southern hemisphere an
advanced new 3 metre-class survey telescope for surveying substantially
smaller objects than those now systematically observed by other telescopes.
The telescope should be dedicated to work on Near Earth Objects and be
located on an appropriate site.
OUR RESPONSE - In November 2000 the Secretary of State for Trade and
Industry announced that the UK intended to join the European Southern
Observatory (ESO) whose telescopes are in the southern hemisphere. ESO has
indicated that it is interested in exploring with the UK the possibility
that a 3 metre-class telescope could be made available at its observing
sites in Chile. This could take the form of the new telescope envisaged in
the recommendation, or a modification of one of ESO's existing 2-4 metre
telescopes. [IF WE CAN MODIFY AN EXISTING TELESCOPE, IT MIGHT BE CHEAPER.
WHO CARES THAT IT WON'T BE EFFICIENT FOR NEO SEARCHES?]
The latter option would not necessarily compromise the telescope's
efficiency. [IF WE DO USE THIS TELESCOPE FOR NEO DETECTION, WE CERTAINLY
DON'T WANT TO P*** OFF THE ASTRONOMERS WHO ARE CURRENTLY USING IT.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 2 - We recommend that arrangements be made
for observational data obtained for other purposes by wide-field facilities,
such as the new British VISTA telescope, to be searched for Near Earth
Objects on a nightly basis.
OUR RESPONSE - PPARC will consider this recommendation as part of the
analysis they will undertake of telescope facilities related to NEOs. [WE
DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS THE CHEPAEST ONE YET.]
PPARC will also address how survey data could be made available to identify
or track NEOs through the 'Virtual Observatory' project. This project,
called AstroGrid, plans to give astronomers remote access through the
Internet to a number of UK and other European telescopes. [NOT ONLY DO WE
NOT INTEND TO PAY FOR THE TELESCOPES BY OURSELVES, WE ALSO CERTAINLY HAVE NO
INTENTION OF PAYING THE SALARIES OF THE ASTRONOMERS WHO ARE GOING TO BE
LOOKING FOR THESE THINGS.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 3 - We recommend that the Government draw
the attention of the European Space Agency to the particular role that GAIA,
one of its future missions, could play in surveying the sky for Near Earth
Objects. The potential in GAIA, and in other space missions such as NASA's
SIRTF and the European Space Agency's BepiColombo, for Near Earth Object
research should be considered as an factor in defining the missions and in
scheduling their completion.
OUR RESPONSE - Government officials have already drawn the European Space
Agency's attention to the role that GAIA and BepiColumbo could play in NEO
survey. [MAYBE THE FRENCH WILL PICK UP PART OF THE BILL.]
In the case of GAIA, a comprehensive stellar survey telescope proposed for
launch no later than 2012, it has been established that additional data
analysis capability could be added into the specification of the mission to
search for moving objects such as asteroids. This mission is currently in
the design stage and it is expected that this capability will be included in
the implementation of the mission, should it prove feasible. [SINCE THE
FRENCH HAVE ALREADY SOLD AN ARIANE TO LAUNCH GAIA, MAYBE WE COULD USE IT TO
DO THE WORK. IN THIS CASE WE MIGHT NOT HAVE TO PAY FOR ANYTHING UNTIL
SEVERAL YEARS FROM NOW.]
The specification of the BepiColumbo mission to Mercury (planned for launch
in 2009) has also been altered to include a dedicated NEO camera.
BepiColumbo should provide unique data on those asteroids whose orbits are
mostly interior to the earth's orbit round the Sun. [THEY CAN'T SAY WE'VE
DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING: THE FRENCH SOLD ANOTHER ROCKET, AND AT LEAST WE
MANAGED TO GET THAT PAYLOAD MODIFIED TO DO SOME USEFUL WORK IN FINDING THESE
The exact scheduling of these two missions depends on the decisions taken at
the European Space Agency Ministerial Council meeting in November 2001. [ON
THE OTHER HAND, MAYBE WE WON'T EVEN HAVE TO PAY ANYTHING AT ALL!]
The UK Government has drawn NASA's attention to the role its SIRTF mission
could play in NEO research. SIRTF is expected to make a further contribution
to identification and characterization of NEOs. [WE SUGGESTED TO NASA THAT
THEY DO SOMETHING.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 4 - We recommend that the 1 metre Johannes
Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma, in which the United Kingdom is a partner, be
dedicated to follow-up observations of Near Earth Objects.
OUR RESPONSE - Following the Task Force's Report, PPARC has already
discussed access to the Johannes Kapteyn Telescope with its international
partners (the use of the JKT is shared in particular with the Netherlands
Organization for Scientific Research), and has received an encouraging
response. It has started to develop a costed analysis with the Director of
the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes, in the Canary Islands. [MAYBE THE
DUTCH WILL PICK UP PART OF THE BILL.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 5 - We recommend that negotiations take
place with the partners with whom the United Kingdom shares suitable
telescopes to establish an arrangement for small amounts of time to be
provided under appropriate financial terms for spectroscopic follow-up of
Near Earth Objects.
OUR RESPONSE - PPARC already supports a number of high scientific priority
studies and observations of NEOs through research grants and telescope time.
[DAMMIT, WE'RE ALREADY SPENDING MONEY ON THESE THINGS.] This is expected to
continue. [AND THEY SHOULD JUST BE THANKFUL THAT WE DON'T CUT THAT OFF.]
There may be opportunities through the recent Spending Review settlement, in
particular through funds directed to information technology, to increase the
efficiency and effectiveness of these studies. [IF THEY WANT MORE MONEY,
THEY CAN FIGHT IT OUT AMONGST THEMSELVES.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 7 - We recommend that the Government -
together with other governments, the International Astronomical Union and
other interested parties - seek ways of putting the governance and funding
of the Minor Planet Center on a robust international footing, including the
Center's links to executive agencies if a potential threat were found.
OUR RESPONSE - The Government welcomes the work done by the Minor Planet
Centre and values its role in coordinating and archiving data on NEOs.
[HOORAY! SOMEONE IS DOING SOMETHING, AND WE DON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.]
NASA is currently pursuing a number of options to provide suitable funding
for the Minor Planets Centre and the Government will work together with
NASA, the International Astronomical Union, the European Space Agency and
other European partners to identify appropriate support to the international
effort. [IN CASE YOU DIDN'T UNDERSTAND US THE FIRST TIME, NOT ONLY WILL WE
NOT PICK UP THE BILL ALL BY OURSELVES FOR THE TELESCOPES, OR FOR THE
ASTRONOMER'S SALARIES, IN ADDITION WE ARE NOT GOING TO PAY ALL BY OURSELVES
FOR THE COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES AND COMPUTERS FOR THESE PEOPLE.]
In addition, the Government will explore with ESA whether it has plans for
similar facilities in Europe. [MAYBE THE ITALIANS WANT TO TAKE SOME OF THEIR
ASTRONOMERS OFF THEIR UNEMPLOYMENT ROLLS.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 6 - We recommend that the Government
explore, with like-minded countries, the case for mounting a number of
coordinated space rendezvous missions based on relatively inexpensive
microsatellites, each to visit a different type of Near Earth Object to
establish its detailed characteristics.
OUR RESPONSE - The Government recognises the importance of characterizing
NEOs and the value of initiatives such as NASA's NEAR mission to the
asteroid Eros. [THE US ROCKET MANUFACTURERS ALREADY HAVE SOLD ROCKETS TO
NASA FOR THIS, SO LET NASA DO IT.] The Government will explore through the
European Space Agency the possibility for future microsatellite rendezvous
missions, emphasising the potential of such missions to achieve both
scientific and technological objectives. [LET'S SEE IF THE FRENCH WANT TO
SELL ANY ROCKETS - IF THEY DO, MAYBE WE CAN SELL THEM A SPACECRAFT.]
[WHAT WE DID]
RECOMMENDATION 12 - We recommend that the Government appoint a single
department to take the lead for coordination and conduct of policy on Near
Earth Objects, supported by the necessary inter-departmental machinery.
OUR RESPONSE - The Government accepts this recommendation. The British
National Space Centre will take the lead in Whitehall on policy in this
area. [WE HANDED THIS ONE OFF TO COLLIN HICKS SO FAST THAT MOST PEOPLE ONLY
SAW A BLUR...]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 13 - We recommend that a British Centre for
Near Earth Objects be set up whose mission would be to promote and
coordinate work on the subject in Britain; to provide an advisory service to
the Government, other relevant authorities, the public and the media, and to
facilitate British involvement in international activities. In doing so it
would call on the Research Councils involved, in particular the Particle
Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Natural Environment Research
Council, and on universities, observatories and other bodies concerned in
OUR RESPONSE - See the response to Recommendation 14 below. [OOPS - WE
ACTUALLY MANAGED TO FORGET THAT WE ALREADY HANDED THIS ONE OFF TO HICKS.
SORRY - ]
[RETURNING TO RECOMMENDATION 12] BNSC is a successful example of joined up
Government which brings together those Government Departments and Research
Councils with an interest in civil space. It includes the majority of
Departments or Research Councils with an interest in the NEO issue i.e. the
Department of Trade and Industry, Office of Science and Technology, Ministry
of Defence [LET'S SEE HOW HICKS LIKES THE ANTI-NUKE CROWD P***ING ON HIS
DOORSTEP], Foreign and Commonwealth Office [HICKS WILL NEED THEM TO TWIST
THE OTHER FOLKS ARMS TO GET THEM TO CHIP IN], Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
[THE ONES LOOKING FOR THE CHEAPEST TELESCOPES], Natural Environment Research
Council, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and DERA.
As the Department within Government with responsibility for civil
emergencies, the Home Office would take over as Lead Government Department
in the event of civil emergencies arising from an imminent impact or the
aftermath of one. Consultation between BNSC and the Home Office will take
place through close working with the Home Office Emergency Planning
Division. In addition coordination meetings will take place between
interested Departments and Research Councils. [SORRY - WE JUST NEEDED TO LET
HICKS KNOW IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS THAT HIS MANDATE EXTENDS ONLY SO FAR.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 10 - We recommend that the Government
urgently seek with other governments and international bodies (in particular
the International Astronomical Union) to establish a forum for open
discussion of the scientific aspects of Near Earth Objects, and a forum for
international action. Preferably these should be brought together in an
international body. It might have some analogy with the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, thereby covering science, impacts, and mitigation.
OUR RESPONSE - The Government agrees on the need for an international forum
to discuss and co-ordinate action on the NEO issue. [GREAT IDEA - WE TRIED
TO FIND SOMEBODY ELSE TO PAY FOR THIS, BUT NO ONE CAME FORWARD.]
OTHER ACTIONS - The NEO report and actions arising from it are to be
discussed at the March meeting of the Inter-Agency Debris Coordination
Committee steering group.
The report is also to be discussed at the Scientific and Technical
subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in
February. At this meeting a joint symposium on Space Hazards will be held by
the International Scientific Union Committee on Space Research and the
International Astronautical Federation. NEOs will be discussed along with
other hazards such as man-made space debris. BNSC will participate actively
in this symposium to promote consideration of both issues.
[SINCE NO ONE AT THE UN HAS ANY IDEA WHAT TO DO EITHER, AND CERTAINLY DOES
NOT WANT TO SPEND ANY MONEY ON IT, WE ARE TRYING TO BRING THE SUBJECT UP AT
MEETINGS DEVOTED TO OTHER TOPICS - AFTER ALL, ISN'T GETTING HIT BY ONE OF
THESES THINGS LIKE GETTING HIT BY A SATELLITE?]
The Government welcomes an approach already received from the OECD with an
offer to assist in this area. Their approach is particularly attractive as
the OECD has the reach to pull in the main players in space-related
activity. Discussions of the risk from NEOs might also contribute to OECD's
project on Emerging Systemic Risks, with which the UK is already associated.
[WHILE NO ONE AT THE UN WANTED TO HANDLE THIS ONE, SOME LOOPY B****** FROM
THE OECD SHOWED UP - WHAT IN DAMNATION DO THEY HAVE TO DO WITH THIS ANYWAY?
IT DOESN'T MATTER, AND AS NO ONE TRUSTS THE OECD OR EVEN LIKES THEM, THIS
MAY HELP TO ENSURE THAT WE WILL HAVE TO UNDERTAKE ABSOLUTELY NO ACTION.]
THE TASK FORCE'S RECOMMENDATION 11 - We recommend that the Government
discuss with like-minded European governments how Europe could best
contribute to international efforts to cope with Near Earth Objects,
coordinate activities in Europe, and work towards becoming a partner with
the United States, with complementary roles in specific areas. We recommend
that the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory, with
the European Union and the European Science Foundation, work out a strategy
for this purpose in time for discussion at the ministerial meeting of the
European Space Agency in 2001.
OUR RESPONSE - The Government welcomes this recommendation. [GREAT IDEA -
IMMEDIATELY AFTER WE STRUCK OUT AT THE UN, WE TURNED TO OUR FELLOW
OTHER ACTIONS - BNSC has raised the issue of NEOs within the European Space
Agency's Working Group for the Space Debris Network of Centres and will
continue to report to that group on progress. [NO ONE AT THE ESA CURRENTLY
HAS ANY IDEA WHAT TO DO EITHER, BUT AT LEAST WE DID BRING THE SUBJECT UP AT
AN ESA MEETING DEVOTED TO ANOTHER TOPIC. GETING HIT BY ONE OF THESE IS LIKE
GETTING HIT BY A SATELLITE, AFTER ALL.]
BNSC is encouraging ESA to bring the NEO issue to the agenda of the ESA
International Relations Committee. [GOOD - HICKS IS LOOKING FOR HELP
ALREADY, AND MAYBE SOMEONE IN THE ESA WILL FINALLY FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO AND
BE WILLING TO PAY FOR IT.] The Science Programme of ESA has undertaken the
task of convening a European forum of "decision makers" in the course of
2001 to discuss Europe's role in this area. [WONDER WHO JACQUES AND GERHARD
WILL SEND TO KEEP HICKS COMPANY?]
In parallel, the European Science Foundation is preparing a report on NEOs.
[UH-OH! CHRIST, LOOK OUT - ANOTHER REPORT!] The European Southern
Observatory is also keen to be involved in these discussions. [BIEN SUR -
LOOKS LIKE THE FRENCH DON'T WANT TO SPEND ANY MORE MONEY EITHER.]
[IF THE ESA DOES DECIDE TO ACT, MAYBE WE CAN GET SOME PEOPLE EMPLOYED]
Here in the UK we have a great deal to bring to an international approach
· A strong track record in astronomy and in sky surveys (e.g. UK Schmidt
· A wide field survey telescope in the southern hemisphere (VISTA) and the
Telescope in the northern hemisphere which is being adapted for survey
· Through its facilities in La Palma and its future membership of the
Observatory the UK has or will have access to a number of small and medium
in both hemispheres which could be used or adapted for survey and
· Particular skills in telescope design and construction in both academia
· UK industry produces what are currently the state of the art CCD imaging
chips for astronomical use. This is a key technology for Near Earth Object
· Expertise in small satellite technology.
[WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO]
Work being taken forward will include:
The European Space Agency working to devise a European Strategy on NEOs in
advance of the meeting of the ESA Council at Ministerial level in November
of this year; [MAYBE IF WE REALLY PRESS THIS ISSUE, WE'LL BE ABLE TO GET
SOMEONE IN EUROPE TO PICK UP PART OF THE BILL]
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) carrying out a
further detailed study of telescope facilities necessary for finding,
tracking and characterising properties of NEOs; [IF THIS ISSUE HASN'T GONE
AWAY BY THE TIME PPARC FINISHES UP, AT LEAST WE WON'T HAVE TO SPEND TOO MUCH
MONEY ON IT.]
The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) discussing
with the UK the establishment of an international forum for discussion of
and action on the threat to earth from Near Earth Objects; and, the British
National Space Centre (BNSC) continuing to act as the lead Government
Department on NEO policy. [WE'RE GOING TO MEET THAT LOOPY B****** AGAIN.]
[WE'LL GET BACK TO YOU LATER.]
Negotiations with and between international institutions, and analysis of
complex scientific proposals, take time. The Government therefore undertakes
to provide a further report later this year on its progress in implementing
the response set out below.
Finally, the Government would once again like to pay warm tribute to the
excellent work of the Task Force, led by Dr Harry Atkinson, and to emphasize
the importance that it attaches to carrying this work forward. [HE'LL NEVER
WORK ON ANOTHER TASK FORCE FOR US AGAIN.]
[E.P. GRONDINE - February, 2001]
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UK ASTEROID RESPONSE 'UNSATISFACTORY'
From the BBC News Online, 26 February 2001
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
Scientists have criticised the UK government's response to an expert
report on the threat to the Earth from asteroids and comets.
They say the reply, from science minister Lord Sainsbury, is
"half-hearted" and "largely non-committal".
Lord Sainsbury announced on Saturday that the UK would continue
discussions about the potential threat identified by the Near Earth
Object (Neo) task force last year.
Some experts had hoped for immediate action.
Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool's John Moores University said: "It is a
mixed message. Many promises but no delivery."
He told BBC News Online: "Just days after US researchers announced that
life on Earth was almost wiped out 250 million years ago by the impact
of a giant asteroid or comet, the UK government has published a
half-hearted and largely non-committal response to the Task Force report
on potentially hazardous near Earth objects.
"It was perhaps too optimistic to hope that the government would
implement all of the task force's 14 recommendations. But the failure to
announce any significant action, or any financial commitment is
unsatisfactory," he said.
Jonathan Tate of the pressure-group Spaceguard UK told BBC News Online:
"With the encouraging report by the Neo task force last year we felt we
were making progress but I fear the momentum could now be lost."
Spaceguard UK added in a statement: "A golden opportunity for the UK to
take a world lead is in danger of being lost.
"The Neo Task Force report significantly raised the profile of the
impact hazard worldwide, and the promise of British government action
had given many international organisations pause for thought.
"The failure to follow this matter through is disappointing to all
A four-point package of measures to tackle the potential threat from
asteroids and comets was announced by Lord Sainsbury, on Saturday.
a review of how existing UK telescope facilities can be used to track
potentially hazardous Neos
evaluating the setting up of a UK facility to provide information and
education on Neos
convening a forum of 'decision makers' in the course of 2001 to discuss
Europe's role in this area
considerations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) to set up an international discussion and action
forum on the potential threat from Neos.
The announcement follows a report by the Neo task force last year, which
proposed how the UK should best contribute to an international effort.
The government has said it is considering refurbishing an existing
telescope to hunt for and monitor rogue asteroids. However, some
astronomers argue that re-fitting an existing telescope would not work
and that a new telescope is needed.
In the absence of an official body to study the Neo threat, Spaceguard
UK, a privately run organisation that has campaigned for government
action since 1996, is establishing one of its own, based in mid-Wales.
The Spaceguard centre will be situated at a private observatory on a
hill overlooking the town of Knighton in mid-Wales. It should be in
operation by the autumn.
"Its aim is to ensure that the public will remain thoroughly informed on
Neo research and planetary defence issues," Jonathan Tate told BBC News
"It will also continue to lobby the government in order to ensure that
its vague promises will be followed by concrete action."
Commenting on the issue of asteroid defence, space visionary Sir Arthur
C Clarke said from his home in Sri Lanka: "The science-fiction writer
Larry Niven once said 'The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't
have a space programme.' It will serve us right if we suffer the same
Copyright 2001, BBC
CCCMENU CCC for 2000