Exactly six days ago NASA announced establishing new Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and after six days we know that Russia would like to participate in its effort to protect Earth from asteroids.
History of PDCO have origins in late nineties, 1998 precisely. At that time, various programs focused on searching and describing potential Near-Earth Objects (mainly like Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program developed under US Air Force, NASA and with collaboration of MIT) were obligated by Congress of United States of America to put effort to localize and describe 90% of potentially risky space objects with diameter over 1 km until 2008. Objective was achieved and great number of asteroids which collision with Earth would result in global disaster were localized. Next step was performed on 2005 when Near-Earth Object Survey Act was announced. It was directive for NASA to search for 90% of NEO with diameter over 140 m until 2020. On 2011 NASA confirmed founding 911 asteroids and estimated number of remaining for around 70. NASA work over asteroid problem was impressive – from 13500 spotted NEOs almost 95% were thanks to NASA, with average number of asteroids founded per year of 1500. This work became more cost and resource absorbing; already on 2010 first signs of necessity of establishing separate department or organization under NASA for research on asteroids were spotted. NASA Advisory Council and its Task Force on Planetary Defense stated that establishing new organization focused only on NEO will help in better utilization of money, employee’s effort and will increase productivity. Same opinion was repeated on 2014 in report by NASA Office of Inspector General. But probably most crucial (and spectacular at the same time) for extending program and establishing special organization was fact of asteroid collision over Chelyabinsk, Russia. It fortunately not caused any victims but only minor injuries, material losses could not be compared with asteroid disaster over Siberia on 30 June 1908, but problem definitely started to be threatened as important by the authorities. Budget for NEO research was increased during recent years from $4 million in 2010 up to $50 million in 2016. At present NEO is subject of over 54 different programs with most important like NEOWISE or Spacewatch.
In NASA statement from 07 January 2016, it was announced that chief of Planetary Defense Coordination Office will be Lindley Johnson. She is present Near Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program executive. Now she will be also responsible for Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). Not even a week has passed since she wields new responsibilities, and Russian Academy of Science member and chief of Astronomic Institute, Boris Shustov, declared in Yekaterinburg that RAS is ready to fully support and collaborate with new initiative. According to TASS news agency he said:
“It is crucial for the international community to work together in tackling the threats from space, which are inherently global… We are planning to cooperate with specialists of the U.S. office on different issues.”
It is very positive sign, that in spite of general negative political situation between Russia and USA, in matter of crucial things like global safety both countries are able to cooperate. Russian authorities after incident in Chelyabinsk were able to experience results of unpredicted collision with asteroid – in spite of injured by broken glass (from sound wave) many people needed help because of shock and panic caused by the advent of asteroid. It was clearly visible how crucial is predicting such incidents which could be passed on to each country.