Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas asked NASA for more detailed information about near-Earth objects—even as the Biden administration wants to cut funding for such research.
As the Ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Lucas and other members sent a letter to NASA requesting an update on their work to identify and characterize near-Earth objects (NEOs).
Lucas, along with Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX), Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jay Obernolte (R-CA), Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), and Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), wrote to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressing concern about the agency’s failure to sufficiently identify and track potential hazards to the planet.
“Tracking near-earth objects is not a meaningless exercise,” the members wrote. “Recent press reports indicated that a ‘planet killer’ asteroid was identified that could pose a distant risk to Earth. So it is troubling that the Administration’s recent budget and spending plans have significantly cut funding for the NEO Surveyor.”
NASA was directed to identify and characterize 90% of near-Earth objects that are at least 140 meters in diameter by 2020. Part of their plan to meet this directive was developing and launching the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope.
However, despite their failure to meet this goal, the Biden Administration has sought aggressive funding cuts for the NEO Surveyor. These cuts come while we are still adjusting to the loss of the Arecibo Observatory in 2020, which NASA heavily relied on to conduct the ground-based radar observations necessary to precisely track and determine the orbits and characteristics of NEOs.
“Despite a congressional mandate, NASA has failed to adequately survey these threats and is once again attempting to delay the NEO Surveyor mission, which will detect potential hazards. Now, with the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory, we’ve also lost critical radio astronomy data,” the members wrote. “We write you today seeking information about NASA’s efforts to identify and characterize potentially hazardous objects, including the status of the NEO Surveyor and plans to mitigate the loss of data derived from Arecibo.”