Struck by the significant unknowns in many aspects of NEO hazards that could yield to Earth-based research, the committee recommends the following:
Recommendation: The United States should initiate a peer-reviewed, targeted research program in the area of impact hazard and mitigation of NEOs. Because this is a policy-driven, applied program, it should not be in competition with basic scientific research programs or funded from them. This research program should encompass three principal task areas: surveys, characterization, and mitigation. The scope should include analysis, simulation, and laboratory experiments. This research program does not include mitigation space experiments or tests that are treated elsewhere in this report.
Responding effectively to hazards posed by NEOs requires the joint efforts of diverse institutions and individuals, with organization playing a key role. Because NEOs are a global threat, efforts to deal with them could involve international cooperation from the outset. (However, this is one area in which one nation, acting alone, could address such a global threat.) The report discusses possible means to organize, both nationally and internationally, responses to the hazards posed by NEOs. Arrangements at present are largely ad hoc and informal here and abroad, and they involve both government and private entities.
The committee discussed ways to organize the national community to deal with the hazards of NEOs and also recommends an approach to international cooperation:
Recommendation: The United States should take the lead in organizing and empowering a suitable international entity to participate in developing a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO hazard.
One major concern with such an organization, especially in the area of preparing for disasters, is the maintenance of attention and morale, given the expected exceptionally long intervals between harmful events. Countering the tendency to complacency would be a continuing challenge. This problem would be mitigated if, for example, the civil defense aspects were combined in the National Response Framework with those for other natural hazards.
The U.S. Department of Defense, which operates sensors in Earth orbit capable of detecting the high-altitude explosion of small NEOs, has in the past shared this information with the NEO science community. The committee concluded that this data sharing is important for understanding issues such as the population size of small NEOs and the hazard that they pose. This sharing is also important for validating airburst simulations, characterizing the physical properties of small NEOs (such as their strength), and assisting in the recovery of meteorites.
Recommendation: Data from NEO airburst events observed by the U.S. Department of Defense satellites should be made available to the scientific community to allow it to improve understanding of the NEO hazards to Earth.
In 2008, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act3 calling for the Office of Science and Technology Policy to determine by October 2010 which agency should be responsible for conducting the NEO survey and detection and mitigation program. Several agencies are possible candidates for such a role.
During its deliberations the committee learned of several efforts outside the United States to develop spacecraft to search for categories of NEOs. In particular, Canada’s Near-Earth-Object Surveillance Satellite, or NEOSSat,