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Does Spaceguard Need a UN Office
Dr. David James Johnson
 South Whitley - July 12, 1999 - The recent success of the NASA sponsored USAF LINEAR Project, in the detection of NEO's is a highly welcome addition to the SpaceGuard effort.

However, I caution, that a mere one or two telescopes is not sufficient enough to conduct a total sky survey, unless such systems are placed in all hemispheres, effectively covering the whole sky. Overall, there has been a lot of debate lately on the subject of asteroid detection, but action has been at a minimal.

NASA has had to pull the plug on a comet mission, which would have yielded a wealth of data on the structure of a comet. In the UK, the debates in Parliament ended disappointingly, but a call for an International Cooperative on Spaceguard was sounded, thus possibly opening the door for a United Nations Spaceguard?

Logically, this UN Spaceguard idea may be the correct avenue to be taken. As the issues brought up by Spaceguard are or should be of concern to the entire world, thus logically it should rest with the UN.

However, the UN track record is not very impressive, as politics, national ideologies and funding concerns continuously slow the process of achieving whatever goal the UN is pursuing.

If the UN takes up the Spaceguard lead, we can all anticipate many lessons in diplomacy, as well as fund raising, as the UN teeters on bankruptcy. I for one have always believed that if Spaceguard is to succeed, it needs to truly be an international cooperative . As it can only achieve the proposed goals of cataloguing 90% of all NEO's , over the next decade, if there exists funding to conduct a total sky survey, and allowances for continued monitoring of these objects.

Issues of funding for such a system are reasonable, at approximately a half a penny (US) per person, per year in the world, could fund a network of picket observatories capable of detection, verification and tracking of these objects, and controlled by the IAU - MPC and the UN, this would be ideal.

However, maybe another movie, such "Spaceguard, the movie" should be sought after, as, "Armageddon" alone netted $201 Million, which is much more than the entire worldwide 10 year Spaceguard budget!

Yet National interest will raise its head and hinder such a cooperative, and continuously cause discontent amongst those of us involved. The soundness of this idea, needs to be debated.

I have asked the U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright about this issue. Response is pending, and should be interesting, as she has possibly never seriously condidered the implications of Earth crossing asteroids and need for Spaceguard.

Most politicians are more concerned with staying in office, than making a contribution to future generations.

The primary question here is where does Spaceguard belong?

Should the UN be involved?

Should the United States take a unilateral position and assume a leadership position in regards to the Spaceguard effort?

And how much money is needed to establish a global observation system and maintain it for essentially ever more.

I would suggest that representatives from a range of Scientific Disciplines should also be involved in this, as ultimately, when that rock with our name on it arrives, other disciplines will be needed to rebuild our world. Logically speaking that is,...

Given the probabilities and odds of an object hitting the Earth as portrayed in Armageddon or Deep Impact, most people figure we have plenty of time.

This is where a lot of people get stuck, David Morrison commented recently to this fact, that people just do not understand probabilities, and this is where a firmly based educational program could really do some good, such if people can understand the problem, then they can make an informed decision.

This is also where the UN could provide its best assistance as well, Education.

The time that we waste now on this issue may hinder future generations in the defense of the Earth. I believe that what we do or do not do now, directly effects the future.

So if our inaction continues, then our children or their children' s chances for survival from such an event are reduced significantly. Weather or not the UN is the correct venue or it rests elsewhere, the need for a fully implemented Spaceguard program needs to be funded without further delay.

Regardless of the agendas of the powers at be, a call has already been ushered for a UN Office for Spaceguard. Realistically this may not be a bad idea, however, what it may achieve is what bothers me, can it do anything to promulgate Spaceguard, and insure that the much needed funding is acquired?

The need for world wide participation in this effort is obvious, and all nations should be allowed to partake in this project regardless of ideology or status in the world.

  • Dr. David James Johnson

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