CCNet ESSAY, 11 February 2002


>From E.P. Grondine <>

Hello Benny -

Last Monday I braved both the crazed drivers of interstate highway 95 as
well as possible terrorist attack to attend the NASA budget briefing held in
the auditorium at NASA Headquaters in Washington, DC. What possible
motivation could there have been for me to so selflessly undertake such a
dangerous voyage?

As Conference participants are well aware, the NASA NEO budget is so small
that it is never mentioned as a line item in the documents which NASA hands
out at the budget briefings, and thus the only way to find out what NASA's
NEO budget is is to make the trip into town. And since I myself am equipped
with certain skills developed during many years of squireling out some of
the most concealed information of the space programs of the former Soviet
Union and China, I suppose that in some ways I am uniquely suited to the
task of finding out exactly what NASA's NEO budget is. Throw in the large
numbers of people killed in recent times by the impact of small asteroids
and comets, and thus Duty calls...

After some 3 days of searching, I am now able to report to Conference
participants that out of its total 2003 budget of some $15,100 million, NASA
has proposed a budget for the JPL NEO office of $3.8 million, +$.5-.$75
million, which will fund detection, tracking, characterization, and
theoretical studies. Of course Conference participants will immediately
realize that this amount is hopelessly inadequate for dealing with the
hazard, but the proposal is not surprising, given the information which I
uncovered in the course of trying to find the NASA NEO budget: specifically,


As I reported several years ago in my coverage of the Asteroids, Comets and
Meteors annual meeting held at Cornell, Vice President Al Gore was acutely
aware of the NEO hazard, as he had had a wake up call delivered to him by
the US early warning satellites from someone even more powerful than
himself, the Sky Gods. As a result of this experience, Gore had personally
been active in getting information from these satellites de-classified for
scienitific use.

I don't know if Bush has any awareness at all of the small NEO impact
hazard. My estimate is that while it is likely that he knows about the fate
of the dinosaurs, he knows nothing about the small impact hazard.  Given
Bush's interest in things Mexican, the Mayan materials on the ca 1150 BCE
mega-tsunami may prove the best way of raising his awareness.


New Presidents get to appoint new Administrators for NASA, if and when they
so desire, and new President Bush has appointed Sean O'Keefe, formerly of
the Office of Management and Budget, as NASA Administrator.  While I have
not yet had the opportunity to question O'Keefe as to his personal knowledge
of the small impact hazard, I can safely assert that it is most probably
close to zero. Some Conference participants may remember my coverage of the
American Astronautical Society's Goddard Symposium several years ago, and in
particular my coverage of Office of Management and Budget staffer Steven
Isakowitz's presentation. After his presentation, I asked Isakowitz about
the NEO hazard, and learned that no one at the Office of Management and
Budget had any understanding of it.


During the first breakfast meetings which new NASA Administrator Sean
O'Keefe held with reporters after he was confirmed by the Senate, he
repeatedly pointed reporters to a handed out document on Bush's "Management
Agenda". The relevant portion of this hand-out states that "Nearly half of
all federal employees perform tasks that are readily available in the
commercial marketplace - tasks like data collection, administrative support,
and payroll services. Historically, the government has realized cost savings
in a range of 20 to 50 percent when federal and private sector service
providers compete to perform these functions."

In real terms, what this amounts to is the transfer of jobs from government
employess, many of whom participate in unions which contribute to the
campaigns of Democratic Party candidates for office, to much lower paid
non-union workers in the private sector. At the NASA budget briefing,
Administrator O'Keefe pointed out a really simple chart on "competitive
(out) sourcing", a chart which used red lights, green lights, and yellow
lights to indicate each government agencies' performance in "competitive
(out) sourcing": the chart was so simple that it could very easily be
understood by a person with even the most limited intellectual gifts. It
should come as no surprise that every government agency recieved a "red
light" for "competitive (out) sourcing".

In fiscal terms, what this amounts to is that President Bush had earlier
estimated that govnerment expenditures could be reduced by some 10% to 25%
(50%x20% to 50%x50%) without affecting the level of services delivered. It
appears that the multiplied effects on the overall economy of the loss in
employee income played no role in Bush's calculation, and this is as might
be expected in a calculation done by a Governor.  Bush's fiscal calculation
also made no allowance for the costs of remotely possible unforeseen events,
such as a terrorist attack on a pair of large commercial structures in a
major urban center.

As for Bush's previously anticipated rate of implimentation of this
"Management Agenda", "Agencies are developing specific performance plans to
meet the 2002 goal of completing public-private or direct conversion
competition on not less than 5% of the full-time equivalent employees listed
on the FAIR Act inventories. The performance target will increase by 10% in
2003." In real terms what this amounts to is a wind-fall for the
"lobbyists", "consultants", and "contracting officers" who will oversee the
transfer of jobs from unionized governemnt employees to non-union firms in
the private sector.


Given the fiscal restraints imposed by President Bush's "Management Agenda",
and the unanticipated need to finance major military operations against Al
Qaeda, what one might normally expect is the begining of a reduction of at
least some 10% in NASA's budget. Instead what was delivered was a proposal
to hold NASA's budget flat with an increase in .66%. Given the overall
budget situation, some attention must be paid to analyzing exactly why this
rise was proposed.

As an anthropologist, Benny, you were taught to carefully compare what
people do against what people say, as the reasons people give for any action
may be entirely different from the reasons exposed through analysis of those

Functionally, NASA has 2 roles. The first of these roles is the minor one of
performing research to improve US commercial and military aircraft. The
second of NASA's roles, and its major function, is the purchase of rockets.
While different research goals are given by NASA to justify the purchase of
these rockets, the fundamental social role which underlies all of this NASA
research is the purchase of rockets.

NASA NEO priorities can best be understood in these terms. The NASA probes
to asteroids and comets require the purchase of rockets, while the early
detection of next asteroid or comet to impact the Earth does not. This one
key fact explains not only the differences in NASA's funding levels for
impactor detection, impact rate estimation, and the launching of probes to
asteroids and comets, it also explains NASA's willingness to pay for the
launch of new probes to the planets, at the same time it does not pay for
the analysis of existing planetary datasets or for the expansion of them by
means not involving the launch of rockets.

How this principle operates in regards to NASA NEO work will be examined
more fully a little further on, but since it is such a major determinative
in understanding the total NASA budget, the NASA's particular behaviours
with regard to the planet Mars are examined immediately below.


During the 1950's, the time when NASA was established as a federal agency,
Mars was widely believed to be a very Earth-like planet which could be
easily settled:

If you examine the final image at this internet site you will see an
illustration not only of the blue skies of Mars, but even of the vegetation
which many imagined to grow there.

This illusion of Mars is still held by many, and this may be seen in the
illustrations at

These people form one of NASA's core constuencies, one of their key basis of
social support.

The real Mars may be seen at:

Note that the real Mars is fundamentally basaltic rock, pieces of which are
thrown to the surface by impact, and in turn covered by a thin layer of red
dust derived from the impact on Mars of iron and stoney iron asteroids. It
has no blue skies, and no surface vegetation, as because Mars lacks a
substantial magnetic field, its surface is constantly bathed by deadly

Now if you have an easily habitable planet nearby, you can more easily
persuade people to allow you to purchase a lot of rockets. And since, as we
learned in our introduction to anthropology classes, the fundamental task of
any social organization is self preservation, it should come as no surprise
that NASA actively promotes the illusion of an easily habitable Earth-like
Mars. Only these two anthropological principles in combined operation can
explain the large amounts NASA is willing to spend looking for water and
life on Mars, and for the financial support of researchers propping up those
illusions, and explain why at the same time NASA does not finance any work
revealing this illusion of Mars to be a sham, which it is, as was
demonstrated by the image immediately above.

For one example, NASA is perfectly willing to spend money buying rockets
from the launch of probes to provide new images of the surface of Mars,
while at the same time spending no money applying modern computer image
processing techniques to existing images of Mars' surface. This is because
NASA wants to buy rockets, and does not like what the images of Mars show.
As another example, NASA is perfectly willing to spend money buying rockets
for the return of samples from Mars, while at the same time it spends very
very little on the recovery of Martian meteorites from Antartica or North
West Africa. Again, this is because NASA likes to buy rockets, and does not
like what the meteorites show. The final example which I will set out here
is that while NASA is perfectly willing to spend large mounts of money to
support researchers searching for water on Mars, on the pretext of
supporting research into geological processes, it does this at the same time
that it spends next to nothing on counting the craters on Mars, which is the
only current practicable method of dating any geological feature on Mars.

Without continuing with further examples, and there are many, these are
sufficient to now conclude the principle of an organization's need for self
preservation as demonstrated in pratice.


Before examining new NASA Administrator O'Keefe's actions as reflected in
his budget, it is necessary to review the situation in which he now

As early as 1964, Wernher von Braun realized that the Saturn 5 cost too much
for continued use, and he assigned his top space systems architect Heinz
Hermann Koelle the task of coming up with a cheaper replacement. The
replacement Koelle proposed was a two stage to orbit fully re-usable
shuttle. Faced by demands from the Department of Defense (another
organization, one needs to add), NASA abandoned this design for the shuttle
in favor of one with a far larger capacity. Given an ultimatum from
President Nixon, NASA was then forced to use solid rocket motors instead of
liquid fueled ones as boosters for this new rocket design.

The result was a dangerously unsafe rocket which is very expensive to
operate, but this fact was only fully realized after one of the rockets blew
up, killing its crew, a rather blunt demonstration of fact viewed by
millions of US citizens on nationally broadcast television. At this point
the manufacture of earlier rockets designed in the 1950's was encouraged,
providing the United States with yet even more unreliable and costly rockets
which were also incapable of being competitive in the communication
satellite market.

Former NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin addressed this situation in five
ways. First, to insure a market for the underpowered 1950's design rockets,
he proposed a new set of scientific missions which would provide a market
for them, as none existed in the communications or defense areas. These
missions included probes to Mars which would lay the groundwork for manned
flight to Mars. Second, Goldin began work on a new generation of expendable
launch vehicles capable of meeting communication and military needs at lower
cost, the so-called Enhanced Expendable Launch Vehicles. Third, Goldin began
work on a new re-usable rocket, the Reusable Launch Vehicle, which was
intended to lower the cost of rockets even further. Fourth, Goldin supported
the construction of the International Space Station, an excellent way to
purchase rockets. Fifth, Goldin encouraged studies of converting the Shuttle
into a heavy lift vehicle for manned flight to Mars, a process which was to
occur after the Enhanced Expendable Launch Vehicles and Reusable Launch
Vehicle became available. A good example of the anthropological principle of
self preservation, this would have provided continuing employment for those
working on the Shuttle after the introduction of these new rockets.


The summation above demonstrates that underlying large parts of Dan Goldin's
activity was his belief in an Earth-like Mars. The new NASA Administrator's
views on Mars are still unclear.

As reported on CNN by one uncited AP reporter, and G*d bless both the
reporter and his editor, O'Keefe has his own views on Mars. "When O'Keefe is
asked about Mars, he responds, "What's the point?  If we get there and say,
'Well, we're here and now what's supposed to happen next?' then what have we
really accomplished? We have to have something in mind for why you do it."

This statement could be read in two ways, and since it is the only statement
we have from O'Keefe on manned Mars flight, it is worth examining both of
them in detail. This could be read as a denial by O'Keefe of the value of
manned Mars flight, or it could be read as an indirect endorsement of
something beyond mere manned flights to Mars, something like an endorsement
of the value of continued manned exploration of Mars, or even the
colonization of Mars. As to which reading is correct, actions speak louder
than words, and whatever O'Keefe's intentions, nuclear power supplies are
being developed for the exploration of Mars, at a cost of some
$1,000,000,000 dollars over the next 5 years, which will be discussed in
detail a little further on.

As for the rockets O'Keefe will buy for NASA, the situation realized is far
different than the one Goldin had tried to bring about. The Reusable Launch
Vehicle met with insurmountable engineering obstacles. Faced with a decline
in demand from the communication market, the manufacturers of the Enhanced
Expendable Launch vehicles appear to have raised their price to the
military, while continuing to offer them for communiction use at a lower
price. (Given existing international trade agreements, I don't think this
pricing structure will hold for long.)

What does O'Keefe intend to do? From the statements made at the bduget
briefing, it is safe ot infer that he intends to develop a Mini-Shuttle for
use with the Enhanced Expendable Launch Vehicles, and this will be announced
sometime between May and June, 2002. Work on the Crew Rescue Vehicle will be
stopped then, and the funds transferred to the devopment of this
Mini-Shuttle, which was repeatedly referred to during the bdget briefing as
a "more capable" vehicle. When questioned about the use of French Hermes
technology for this (and one might add the Japanese HOPE technology), it
seemed to me that the initial reaction was negative, though Associate
Administrator Venneri described a study that would be done to report back in
one year's time, about May-June, 2003. My guess is that they intend for the
US to go it alone on the Mini-Shuttle, but in this business what people
intend and what finally happens are often far different...

All three of the rockets whose development Goldin had encouraged were
intended to allow NASA to support the International Space Station at a lower
cost than the use of the Shuttle alone.  Until the Mini-Shuttle is
completed, the development of the International Space Station will be held
at the level called "core complete", and this development is expected to
last at least through the year 2007.

At approxiamtely the same time, May-June 2002, O'Keefe will announce that
the Shuttle is to be privatized, thus leaving it to meet its fate in the
market. Since current Shuttle per flight costs are around $450 million, and
the Shuttle's capacity is either 2 or 3 communication satellites per flight,
this is a launch cost of some $150-225 million per satellite.  O'Keefe's
decision will in effect allow NASA to shut down production of the Shuttle,
while at the same time avoiding the alienation of the people working on it.
In any csae, the Mini-Shuttle is not anticipated to be available before
2007, and it is unlikely that the Shuttle will be hsut down before then.


The most surprising, and by far the largest element in O'Keefe's new
direction for NASA is his intention to develop nuclear electric power
supplies for use in space. If you add together all of the expenditures for
nuclear electric power that O'Keefe announced, they most lieky amount to
somewhere around $2,000 millions over the next 10 years.

While some may initially suspect that these nuclear power supplies are being
developed for use in missile defense systems, in point of fact nuclear
electric power supplies are of little use for this. There is no way that
they can be stored in low Earth orbit for possbile use in the case of
attack, and there is also no way that they can be quickly launched and
placed in low Earth orbit at the time of any possible event which they would
be needed to deal with.

Since NASA's new nuclear electric policy was developed in cooperation with
the Department of Energy, probably the best way of viewing it (and it is by
no means certain that any of it will pass the Congress) is in light of the
situation facing current US electric power suppliers.  Around 25% of US
electric power is generated by nuclear plants which are nearing the end of
their rated lives, and since the construction of replacement nuclear power
generating facilites has been blocked by those opposed to nuclear energy,
the US will face an electric power deficit of some 25% in the immediate
future. Also, due to the objections of those oppossed to the developement of
nuclear energy, no nuclear power generation plants have been built in the
United States for many years, and the engineering skills needed to build
these are in decline. Since engineers are fascinated by space, the prospect
of work on space based nuclear electric power systems is certain to attract
their interests. Further, it may be that it has been decided that attaching
nuclear power to space might be a good way of improving its image with the

(Conference particpants may wish to make special note of the fact that no
electric generating nuclear reactor on the face of the Earth has been
hardened enough to withstand a Tunguska class blast, and that our current
estimate is that these have been occuring recently at a rate of about 1
every 100-200 years. In the case of a land blast over a nuclear rector,
meltdown will follow.)


While these nuclear electric power concerns may have played a role in
O'Keefe's decisions, other factors played their role in Ed Weiler's decision
to promote the use of nuclear electric power.

The success of the ion engines of Deep Space 1 in its visit to Comet Borelly
has raised the awareness that ion engines are very efficient, and if coupled
with nuclear electric power generation, the possibilities for space researhc
are great. Current travel times to the outer planets range around 17 years,
baring gravitational assists; with ion engines and nuclear electric power,
these travel times drop to months.

Immediately, the outer solar system programs which were under development
have been cancelled, and it is Weiler's intent that these are to be replaced
by a series of "New Frontiers" programs, to be funded at a level of $650
million each, one occuring every 3 years. These probes will probably include
a visit to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt Objects. More certainly, it is likely
that they will include a visit to Jupiter's moon Europa, and a search for
life there. And the only way that the thick surface ice of Europa could be
melted through to reach its oceans is with the use of nuclear electric

Of course, we in the NEO community will naturally have doubts about the
value of seeking life on Europa when compared with the lives of those who
will die in the next moderately sized impact event here on Earth, but then
this is a functional analysis, so the question is not "Is there life on
Europa?", but rather, "What reasons is NASA giving for buying nuclear
electric power generators?"  Of course, if one could only come up with a
nuclear electric powered deep space based NEO detection telescope...

Three types of nuclear electric power supplies are to be developed. The
first of these is the familiar RTG in which a thermocouple converts the heat
of nuclear decay into electricity, as only one of these is left in NASA's
inventory. The second power supply which Weiler and O'Keefe intend to see
developed will use closed loop Stirling Cycle Engines to convert this decay
heat into electricity, while the third electric generator which Weiler
mentioned was a full scale nuclear reactor, which would rely on fission
instead of decay for its heat.

Weiler assured everyone that the devices would be safe, and in questioning
afterwards he stated that the devices would meet not only UN regulations but
also the much stricter US NEPA standards.  In as much as the Enhanced
Expendable Launch Vehicles are to be improved to the point at which they can
be man rated for use with the Mini-Shutttle, the safety of launching these
nuclear devices will be greatly improved.


While there is much talk about the value of outer planet programs,
functionally, given the illusions of Mars upon which NASA depends for public
support, demonstrated above, the largest use of nuclear electric power
systems will be for Mars. Since this is so, it will be worth examining in
full extracts concerning Mars from Weiler's statement which was released at
the budget briefing:

"The Mars Exploration Program (MEP) is a sustained series of missions to
Mars, each of which will provide long-term, focused scientific return. The
primary objective is to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic
system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology,
and whether life ever arose there. [Again, in light what is currently known
about the loss of life in medium sized impact events, the value to society
of any of these NASA "objectives" for Mars is highly questionable.] The
strategy includes a natural responsiveness to scientific discoveries that
will emerge as new observations are made. [Again, one has to ask why old
Mars observations are ignored.] The fiscal 2003 budget features some
alterations in the strategy for the missions that will be launched after
2005. The fiscal 2003 request for the Mars Exploration program is $453.6
million. [By way of comparison, the fiscal 2003 request for the detection of
deadly NEOs is $3.8 million.]

"The 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched April 7, 2001, is now in its
science orbit around Mars, having just recently completed its aerobraking
maneuvers to achieve its final orbit.

"The twin Mars Exploration Rovers are being prepared for launch in the
summer of 2003, and will arrive at their landing sites on the surface of the
Red Planet about seven months later."

The launch of twin rovers to Mars demonstrates again the functional
importance of Mars to NASA. Indeed, the simultaneous failure of Mars Polar
Lander (see my report on this failure and interview with Noel Hinners in the
CCNet archives) and of the Mars Climate Orbitor led to wide public
disatisfaction with NASA. It is clear that with these rovers NASA
anticipates that while one rover may fail, the launch of two will ensure
some kind of success. The possibility of identicial single point failures in
both rovers has not been considered, as this would entail the launch of one
rover, and then the launch of the other some 18 months later. It is also
interesting to note in this regard that the simultaneous launch of both
rovers will place a very heavy strain on the Deep Space Network of antennas,
and at the same time require the hiring of 2 separate teams for rover

"The mission of the MER rovers is to find conclusive evidence of
water-affected materials on the surface. They are designed to effectively
serve as robotic field geologists, and they will provide the first
microscopic study of rocks and soils on Mars.

"The 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is now in the formulation
stage. The MRO will use its new observational tools, some of which could
resolve beach ball-sized objects and their mineralogies, to search for clues
within the Martian landscape of telltale layers and materials associated
with action of liquid water."

Unfortunately, liquid water does not behave in the way that NASA hopes at
the temperatures and pressures found on Mars. Carbon Dioxide does, and it is
a good question why the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter will not observe its
action, if the goal is to actually understand the geological processes
active on Mars today.

"In 2007, NASA will launch a Mars Scout mission, which will be fully
competed and competitively selected. In addition, NASA will provide
programmatic and technical support to international Mars missions. These
missions are the NASA-Italian Space Agency (ASI) telecommunications orbiter
and the French Space Agency's Orbiter including NetLanders."

Word was thrown over the transom to me that the competition for the Scout
mission will be anounced in several months time, and it will be quite
interesting to see who will compete and who will win this contract.

"The next major step will be NASA's 2009 Mars Smart Lander (MSL)/Mobile
Laboratory, a long-duration roving science lab intended to confirm the
surface presence of water-related minerals and carbonates and their
formational histories. The MSL will be a pathfinder to those sites that
offer the highest probability of harboring Martian fossils or other forms of
indicators of past life. It will serve as both a scientific and
technological pathfinder for future missions, including sample return. The
2009 Smart Lander/Mobile Laboratory will take advantage of the advances in
nuclear power technology. By incorporating improved nuclear power systems,
NASA can extend the operability of the rover from months to years, greatly
increasing the scientific return of this mission."

The dealy of this rover from 2007 to 2009 pretty much agrees with the result
of an analyis I preformed several years ago as to the commercial prospects
for Russian planetary rovers. There is no question that the use of nuclear
electric power supplies improves the performance of planetary rovers.


Any suggestion that this nuclear electric program is meant to support manned
flight to Mars is met with extremely vigorous denial by everyone at NASA.
But then when examining the actions of social organizations one must apply
the anthropological principle of looking at actions rather than words.

As was demonstrated above in the section on self preservation, one of the
key tasks which NASA has is suporting the illusions about about a watery
Earth-like Mars which is easily habitable, illusions held by a number of
their supporters. Now whatever NASA says, the "plans" of those  supporters
regularly feature the use of nuclear devices as a means of propulsion for
their trips to Mars, sometimes as nuclear thermal reaction engines,
sometimes as nuclear electric generators. Whateever denials NASA issues,
denials which may divert anti-nuclear activists for a while, NASA's current
interest in nuclear electrical generators is viewed by these supporters in
exactly this light. An example of this may be seen at:

It is truly unfortunate that earlier studies by NPO Energia which showed
that after 3 to 4 manned flights to Mars the re-usability advantages offered
by solar powered systems outweigh the initial cost advantages held by
nuclear systems are not more widely available. It is also unfortunate the so
little attention is paid to the new very highly efficient solar thermal
reaction engines.


When dealing with government officials involved with NEO policies, it is
sometimes difficult to control one's frustrations, as if only they would do
something, then we would not have to. Speaking for myself, I personally
would be able to spend a part of my time far more confortably, lying on a
warm sandy beach somewhere, somewhere near to 3 or 4 bars and night spots,
say tavernas or cantinas. When these feelings emerge, I force myself to
remember my own reaction to Dr. Teller's comments when he first raised his
concerns about the NEO hazard, which was to dismiss them out of hand as the
self-serving remarks of a person interested in self aggrandizement. I am
sorry truly for that, and would suggest to everyone that when those feelings
arise they make an effort to try to remember their own inital reactions when
learning of the impact hazard.


Conference participants will remember the interview which NASA Associate
Administrator for Space Science Ed Weiler graciously gave me at last year's
American Astronautical Society Goddard Memorial Lecture. Ed expressed his
opinion that ground based observation, which was all that dealing with the
NEO hazard required, was the job of the United States' National Science
Foundation, and that there was "no way in hell" that NASA would particpate
in the construction of a large ground based NEO telescope.

In this context, it must be remembered that there are two conflicting
govermental decisions which pertain to early impactor detection. The first
of these decisions is an agreement between the National Science Foundation
and NASA, executive agencies, that NSF will oversee ground based
observatories, while those based in space are under NASA's domain. The
second of these decisions is Congressional "guidance", in the from of a
House ammendment to a NASA authorization act, and ammendment which never
passed the Senate, and thus never obtained the force of law, which instructs
NASA to complete the "Spaceguard" survey.  The third governmental directive
concerning US NEO efforts came from the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB), current NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's old shop, and it instructed
NASA and NSF to combine all of their astronomical observation programs.

Given this directive, so to determine the US NEO budget, I interviewed all
of the officials concerned, those with both the NSF and NASA. To a man, none
of them have any understanding of the hazard small and medium sized impacts
present to us.

Now in a time of increasing budgets, both NSF and NASA would be fighting
among themselves to take on this new "responsibility" and thus to expand
their organizations. But in the current budget climate both NSF and NASA are
doing their best to avoid responsibility for the NEO problem, and those
responsable do this in a number of ways.

To understand Ed Weiler, you must remember that he was trained as an
astro-physicist, a cosmologist, at Northwestern University, and then went to
work on the Hubble Space Telescope. He derives fundamental intellectual
pleasure from solving the grand mysteries of the universe, or helping others
to do that, and not from anything as pedestrian as impact events and
accretion. His understanding of the impact hazard extends only to the work
done on Extinction Level Events, and that just barely. He thinks of
asteroids and comets in cosmological terms, as parts of the grand puzzle,
and not as immediate operational threats, which is exactly what they are, as
most Conference participants realize only too well. Probes to find out how
those pieces fit into the puzzle are very good, and sometimes the remote
possibility is mentioned that that information may be needed at some day far
off into the future in order to prevent a major catastrophe.

Now in a time of increasing budgets, Weiler could point to the House
"instruction" and assume responsibility for NEOs. But clearly he does not
want the job, as he is trying his best to shift it to the National Science


What jobs does Ed Weiler want? As person in charge of space science, what
Weiler does want is the support of the watery Mars folks, and this has been
demonstrated above. The other process which Weiler is placing great reliance
in building institutional support for NASA is the so called
"Decadal Study" being conducted by the National Reearch Council. The
National Research Council is conducting this survey with the aid of The
American Astronomical Society, the Geological Society of America, the
American Geophysical Union, and the Meteoritical Society.

Don Yeomans is leading the effort of the AAS on NEOs for this, with the
result that Ed Weiler is getting advice from his employee Don Yeomans. What
Don is telling Ed is that he needs to spend more money on the NEO search,
and he needs telescopes similar to the proposed UK NEO Telescope:

SURVEY, 2003-2013

DRAFT DATE: 12/12/01


Donald K. Yeomans (JPL)

Erik Asphaug (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Bill Bottke (Southwest Research Institute)
Peter Brown (University of Western Ontario)
Alberto Cellino (Torino Observatory)
Ron Fevig (University of Arizona)
Uwe Fink (University of Arizona)
Carl Hergenrother (University of Arizona)
Alan R. Hildebrand (University of Calgary)
Steve Larson (University of Arizona)
Jean-Luc Margot (California Institute of Technology)
David Tholen (University of Hawaii)



The rationale for the study of near-Earth objects (NEOs) includes their
being relatively primitive bodies left over from the early solar system
formation process, their future utilization as raw materials for building
structures and habitats within the inner solar system, and their hazards
because of their infrequent, but potentially catastrophic, collisions with
Earth. It is primarily this last topic that is addressed here. We note that
NASA's interest in this topic is not driven by scientific justification
alone. This interest includes the very real threat to life on Earth. As a
result of a robust search for NEOs, the scientific community not only
ensures that there will be no surprises from Earth threatening objects, but
(that) there will be new discoveries and future close Earth approaches of
these objects that can be studied via ground-based programs including radar
"imaging" characterizations. In addition, these NEO discoveries will provide
future mission targets that are among the most accessible in terms of
spacecraft energy requirements. Indeed, there are many near-Earth asteroids
(NEAs) for which it would be easier to effect a spacecraft rendezvous and
landing than it would for the Moon itself.

About four billion years ago, perhaps as a result of the outer planets
formation process, there began a period of intense impacts by comets and
asteroids upon the Earth. This period has been termed the "late heavy
bombardment" and while it may have been part of Earth's formation process,
conditions on the surface of the Earth were far too hot to allow the
necessary building blocks of life to survive (i.e., liquid water and organic
molecules). It was only after the vast number of asteroids and comets in the
inner solar system thinned out as a result of planetary agglomeration and
gravitational scattering that conditions improved to a point where they were
suitable for the pooling of water and (formation of) organic molecules.

As a result, about 3.8 billion years ago, the late heavy bombardment drew to
a close and life developed rather quickly. Subsequent asteroid and cometary
impacts, while not frequent enough to completely frustrate the development
of life on Earth, did punctuate its evolution, allowing only the most
adaptable species to evolve further. Thus in some sense, we mammals owe our
preeminent position atop the world's food chain to ancient Earth impacts
that wiped out our principal competition, including the dinosaurs.
If we wish to maintain this position, we must deal with potential Earth
impactors before they have a chance to relegate us to the evolutionary trash

The rough dividing line between an impactor that would have global
catastrophic consequences and one that would have only local consequences
(e.g., Tsunamis), is about 1 kilometer in size. An Earth impactor with a
diameter larger than about one kilometer would be expected to wipe out a
significant fraction of life on Earth since the effects would be global
(Chapman and Morrison, 1994; Toon et al., 1997). Impactors less than a
kilometer in size, while extremely serious threats in some cases, will
likely cause only local damage and large scale loss of life can be avoided
via evacuations if the threat is identified with sufficient advance warning.

Thus the Spaceguard Goal of NASA, as articulated in 1998 by Dr. Carl Pilcher
before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, is to discover 90%
of the near-Earth asteroids larger than one kilometer within 10 years. It is
this Spaceguard Goal that is driving much of today's research into, and
funding for, the near-Earth objects (NEOs). Assuming an average albedo of
about 11% for near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), the dividing line between one
kilometer and larger-sized objects and those that are smaller has been taken
to be absolute magnitude 18. Toward the end of 2001, about 550 NEAs brighter
than, or equal to, absolute magnitude 18 have been discovered out a total
estimated population of about 1000 large NEAs (Rabinowitz, 2000; Bottke et
al., 2000; Stuart, 2001). While at first look this progress seems very
impressive, when the facility with which new objects are detected in the
first few years of an intensive search effort is taken into account, THE
(my caps)

Currently, NASA supports five NEO search teams:

LINEAR MIT's Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (Grant Stokes, P.I.)
NEAT Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (JPL, Eleanor Helin, P.I.)
LONEOS Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (E. Bowell, P.I.)
Catalina Catalina Sky Survey, LPL, University of Arizona (Steve Larson, P.I.)
Spacewatch LPL, University of Arizona  (Bob McMillan, P.I.)

The LINEAR program, near Socorro NM, employs two Air Force GEODSS telescopes
of 1-meter aperture and the NEAT program uses an Air Force telescope of 1.2
meters aperture on Mt. Haleakala, Maui. NEAT also has a 1.2-meter aperture
telescope operational at Palomar Mountain. The LONEOS and Catalina teams
currently use 0.6 m aperture telescopes, while the Spacewatch group uses 0.9
meter and 1.8 meter aperture instruments.

The discovery of NEOs, the necessary follow-up astrometric observations
required to secure their orbits, and the integration of their motions into
the future to check for Earth encounters are critically important steps, but
these activities are not the entire effort required.  We must also
understand the physical characteristics of NEOs including the nature of
their rotations, structures, sizes, masses and chemical compositions. The
general characterization of NEO members by optical, IR, and radar techniques
are especially valuable. Physical characterization studies, including the
determination of an objects' spectral class, are necessary steps toward
determining a NEO's composition and structure - key bits of information
should it be necessary to deflect any of these objects from an Earth
threatening trajectory.


Q: How can the current search efforts to reach the Spaceguard Goal be
optimized? How can this optimization be achieved within each team and how
might cooperative efforts between teams improve the discovery rate?

R: Re-form NEO Science Working Group to assess current progress toward
meeting Spaceguard Goal (i.e., by 2008, discover 90% of NEAs whose diameters
are larger than 1 km) and suggest how the entire search efforts could be
optimized. This group should consider and recommend strategies for:

1. Optimizing (the) efforts of (the) current search teams.
2. Further extending sky coverage to the southern hemisphere and closer to
the sun.
3. Coordinating search efforts between teams (to the extent possible).
4. Identifying what new equipment/techniques/resources are required to meet
the Spaceguard Goal?
5. Providing for an appropriate support level for the Minor Planet Center
(Cambridge, MA) so (that) this vital clearing house for NEO data is
operationally robust.
6. Providing for the efficient searching of data archives for NEO
pre-discovery observations
7. Using the data from Earth orbital wide field surveys (e.g., SIRTF, LSST,
GAIA) to significantly improve the NEO discovery rate and our understanding
of their physical characteristics.
(my caps)
9. Improving our knowledge of the size distribution for the near-Earth
10. Dealing with the long period comets whose Earth impacts, while far more
rare than impacts by asteroids of comparable size, can occur at much faster
velocities and with much shorter warning times.

Q: What are the critically important studies for characterizing the physical
nature of NEOs and how might these studies be made a more integral part of
the NASA NEO Observations Program?

R: The annual NASA Research Opportunities in Space Science (ROSS)
announcements have recently called out the search and follow-up of NEO(s) to
be of higher priority than physical characterization studies. In FY2000, the
very limited resources available to NEO observations went to support only
those proposals offering search and astrometric follow up programs.
There was a complete lack of FY2000 funding for NEOs within the Near-Earth
Object Observation Program. While the majority of the funding should go
toward the search and follow-up activities, a certain fraction of the
available funding should be guidelined for NEO characterization studies to
maintain a balanced NEO research program.  Just as the NEO discovery and
follow-up facilities themselves require an appropriate amount of
infrastructure support, the physical characterization facilities (including
the planetary radars at Arecibo and Goldstone) also require this
infrastructure support.

Efforts to provide a balanced NEO research program will require additional
funding to be added to the NEO program, since THE REALIZATION OF THE
FUNDING (my caps), and the current level includes insufficient allocations
for the necessary physical characterization studies.

Q: What is the role of in situ spacecraft studies for the physical
characterization of near-Earth asteroids and comets?

R: While the proximity of NEOs to the Earth from time to time make them
prime targets for ground-based physical characterization studies, there are
a host of important measurements that require in situ measurements.
Knowledge of an object's mass, chemical composition, bulk density, porosity,
internal structure and spin characteristics will require rendezvous and
landing missions carrying the necessary imagers, spectrometers, landers,
active seismology experiments, and spacecraft tracking equipment. A detailed
analysis of an object's chemical composition will require the study of a
returned surface sample in Earth-based laboratories. At a minimum,
rendezvous missions should be sent to C-type and M-type NEAs to allow
comparisons of these objects with the S-type asteroid Eros which was closely
scrutinized by the NEAR spacecraft.

We recommend that a conference or panel address the specific science
requirements for the mitigation of Earth threatening near-Earth objects
(Ahrens and Harris, 1994). This group should address what are the specific
physical parameters of a potential impactor that must be known in advance of
an effective mitigation campaign.

Ahrens, Thomas and Alan Harris (1994). Deflection and fragmentation of
near-Earth asteroids.  In Gehrels, Tom (ed.),  Hazards due to comets and
asteroids. University of Arizona press, Tucson, Arizona, pp. 897-927.
Bottke, W.F., R. Jedicke, A. Morbidelli, J.-M. Petit, B. Gladman (2000).
Science, vol. 288, pp. 2190-2194.
Chapman, Clark R. and Morrison, David. (1994).  Impacts on the Earth by
Asteroids and Comets: Assessing the Hazard.  Nature, vol. 367, 33-39.
Rabinowitz, D, E. Helin, K. Lawrence, S. Pravdo (2000). The number of
kilometer-sized near-Earth Asteroids.  Nature, vol. 403, pp. 165-166.
Stuart, Joseph S. (2001).  A Near-Earth Asteroid Population Estimate from
the LINEAR Survey.  Science, vol. 294, pp. 1691-1693.
Toon, Owen B., Turco, Richard P. and Covey, Curt. (1997). Environmental
Perturbations Caused by the Impacts of Asteroids and Comets. Reviews of
Geophysics, vol. 35, pp. 41-78.


In July, 2001 Weiler assigned Guenter Riegler the task of conducting on
behalf of NASA the negotiations with the National Science Foundation, those
negotiations which the Office of Management and Budget had instructed NASA
to undertake as a preliminary to combining NSF and NASA astronomical
observation programs.

Guenter performed admirably in that role, as to date, NASA and NSF have had
one meeting, on 4 January, 2002, so clearly he managed to delay the meeting
for some 6 months after he was assigned the task. At this meeting NASA and
NSF decided to set up a working group which has as its purview the
co-odination of their separate observational programs, with the goal of
making them more productive. For further discussion of this result, see the
discussion of the anthropological principle of institutional self
preservation set out above. Applying this principle further, it follows that
since former OMB staffer Sean O'Keefe now heads NASA and is its
Administrator, his views on the efficiency of combining the two agencies'
observational programs will have undoubtedly changed.

The NEO observation programs played almost no role in these discussions, as
early NEO detection plays almost no role as a part of total observatory
programs of both NASA and the NSF.  This is not surprising, as Rielger again
has no understanding of the operative nature of the NEO hazard. Riegler's
background is in x-ray astronomy (yet another cosmologist), and his main
focus in recent times has been on scientific data base systems and data

There is hope here, however. When I asked Riegler about the possibility of
space based detection systems, he suggested that an application be made to
NASA's Discovery Program. Would someone out there please make this
application, and be sure to include Schulz's materials on the 350 Megaton
third millenia BCE Rio Cuarto Impact as an attachment to it?


When I spoke with him, the NSF's Wayne van Citters expressed his irritation
that NASA had unilateraly cut off funds for the Ariceibo NEA observations
without consulting him beforehand. He was not sure why NASA had done this,
and expressed relief that NASA had resumed funding until at least the end of
this year, but he was not sure what would happen after that. He hoped he
would find out when discussions on this would be held a month from now, in
March, 2002.

As van Citters made absolutely no mention of it when asked, I don't think
that he understands yet that Ed Weiler intends for the NSF to undertake
financial responsability for meeting the Spaceguard Goal. This is nearly a
full year after Weiler expressed to me his desires at the AAS Goddard
Memorial Symposium.

van Citters asked that I not share with you details of his personal
knowledge of the impact hazard, and honoring his wishes I will simply state
that it is non-existant. van Citters training was in ultra-violet astronomy
(yet another cosmologist) and he developed an ultra-violet instrument for
the Hubble Space Telescope. After his instrument was pulled because of the
necessity of correcting Hubble's optics, van Citters turned to science


While Don Yeomans heads NASA's NEO office at JPL, Tom Morgan is the man in
charge at headquarters, and he is plenty busy dealing with the immediate
astpects of telescope and observatory operations. The line of command runs
from Ed Weiler, through Coleen Heartman, and then on to Tom.

After my calls to Reigler and van Citters, Morgan called me to try to
clarify the situation.  He told me that another .5 to .75 million would be
added to the NEO program through the planetary astronomy accounts (which
should bring the 2003 total up to $4.3 - $4.55 million, still a hopelessly
inadequate amount), and that further data analysis for the NEAR-Shoemaker
asteroid Eros dataset would rise from $1 million in 2002, to $2 million in
2003, $3 million in 2004, and $4 million in 2005.

Morgan was fixated on the Spaceguard Survey goal of finding 90% of all NEOs
greater than 1 kilometer in diameter, and told me that of the 1100 asteroids
estimated to exist in this range, they had found 600 of them.  I asked
Morgan about the hazard comets presented, and he expressd the opinion that
these formed about 20% of the impact hazard, with asteroids composing the
other 80% of it.

Persuing this line of questioning, I asked Morgan if NASA had an organized
program to find Long Period Comets, and was told that while NASA had no
program to deal with them, LINEAR was finding them. He followed this with a
wonderful story regarding NASA's involvement in the establishment of Grant
Stoke's LINEAR program, one that I am sure Grant will greatly enjoy.

Persuing this line of questioning still further, I asked Morgan whether the
language of the House directive included just asteroids above 1 kilometer in
diameter, or whether it included all Near Earth Objects above 1 kilometer in
diameter. He did not know. So having been told repeatedly by Morgan about
NASA's success in meeting the nearly completely arbitrary 1 kilometer
diameter goal for detection, it turned out that he did not even know the
language of the House directive under which he was busy working. Morgan is
not a bad person, and during this part of my interview it was as if a light
had come on: comets are 20% of the danger, and I'm effectively doing very
very little about them.

Morgan then expressed satisfaction as to dealing with at least part of the
problem, but as with the others, when questioned, his understanding of small
impacts as an immediate operational hazard was nil. He had never heard of
Rio Cuarto. He was depending on David Senske for impact estimates, and later
research showed that Senske is a planetary scientist whose background is in
the study of Venus.

Morgan told me that his future actions would depend on the results of the
Decadal Survey, but had no idea that JPL's Don Yeomans was heading the NEO
section of it, and that he could find out what Yeomans would advise with a
simple telephone call.

Brian Marsden will also be surprised to learn about Morgan's level of
knowledge concering the operation of the Minor Planet Center. Morgan did not
know that the MPC had been experiencing any problems. Morgan had no idea as
to the total amount of funding the Minor Planet Center required for
operation, beyond the fact that NASA contributed $130,000 per year for it. 

Since the MPC was chartered by the IAU, Morgan stated that advice on this
would have to come from the IAU. Last time I checked, NASA's David Morrison,
Director of its Astrobiology (for which read "Mars biology") Programs at
Ames, was still in charge of the IAU Working Group on NEOs, and had been all
through last year's crisis.


The old Washington saying is that "The President proposes, while the
Congress disposes."  The 2003 NASA budget had some 140 earmarks whose total
cost was $520 million. The NASA NEO budget for 2003 will be between $4.3 -
4.55 million, in other words $3.8 million plus $.5-.75 million added through
the planetary astronomy accounts. The only reason NASA is spending this
amount is because of an earmark by a House member who has since passed on,
the late California physicist and Representative George Brown.

This amount is completely inadequate for dealing with the NEO hazard as we
know it. The best immediate hopes for increasing this amount is either
another Congressional earmark, or money for a space based observatory to be
gained by application to the Discovery Program. Space Science SubCommittee
head Dana Rohrabacher is retiring this year after 10 years of service, and
getting his late colleague George Brown's ammendment through the Senate
might make a really nice final act. The trick is to get the earmark through
the Senate, and it is certain that if Science Committee Chairman
Representative Boehlert ever finds out what is happening here, he is going
to be all over this like butter on toast.

In the long term, ironically NASA's attempts to satisfy its Mars
constituents will lead to a fundamental shift in its focus. As each of
NASA's Mars probes has returned its data, larger and larger segments of the
population have droppped the illusion of a watery Mars which resembles the
US desert southwest. This process will continue over the next decade, as
NASA launches even more probes to Mars, and Europe's Mars Express and Beagle
further reveal the planet. At that point, NASA will be forced to change its

It must be remembered that NASA's primary social function is to purchase
rockets. With demand for Mars in decline, NASA will have to shift the focus
of that function:

Of course, if there is a major impact between now and then, we could always
take up the ancient Mayan technique for dealing with the problem.

Best wishes,

E.P. Grondine
Oak Knoll Farm, Burr Hill, VA. 22433
tel. 540-854-4429

CCCMENU CCC for 2002