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    Earth at risk: New calls for planetary defense

    By Leonard David

    GARDEN GROVE, California – It is past time to get serious about planetary defense, experts say. The threat of Earth being on the receiving end of a cosmic calling card in the form of an asteroid or comet is real.

    Despite increasing scientific agreement regarding the danger posed by near-Earth objects smashing into our planet, governmental steps to deal with the issue are missing-in-action. At present, only patchwork and under-funded research efforts are underway to robustly detect, track, catalog and plot out strategies to thwart menacing asteroids and comets that place Earth at risk.

    An international confab of experts is taking part in The Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting Earth from Asteroids here this week and sponsored by The Aerospace Corporation and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

    Tepid response

    The four-days of discussion were kicked off by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the House Science Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

    Rohrabacher noted that it took the attacks of Sept. 11 for the country to focus on global terrorism. "I hope that it won’t take that type of catastrophe for us to start paying attention to the threats of near-Earth objects," he said.

    The lawmaker said the political reaction to the worries over space rocks has garnered "a very tepid response" to date, noting that money spent so far on the issue has been "a pittance."