Cash Plea To Save Earth
Updated: 13:16, Tuesday March 06, 2007
NASA officials say they need $1bn to identify every asteroid which poses a threat to Earth.
The American space agency says it has the skills at its disposal, but not the cash.
In a report to be released later this week, officials say the cost to find at least 90% of the 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets by 2020 would be about $1bn.
Congress asked NASA in 2005 to come up with a plan to track most killer asteroids and propose how to deflect the potentially catastrophic ones.
"We know what to do, we just don't have the money," said Simon Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Centre.
The money is needed to track asteroids which are bigger than 140m in diameter - slightly smaller than the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Even if they do not strike earth, if they explode nearby they have the potential to destroy a small US state.
NASA is already is tracking larger objects, at least 1,005m in diameter, which could wipe out most life on Earth - the suspected fate of the dinosaurs.
However, even this project - which has spotted 769 asteroids and comets, none on a course to hit Earth - is behind schedule.
Earth got a scare in 2004, when initial readings suggested an 885-foot asteroid called 99942 Apophis seemed to have had a chance of hitting Earth in 2029.
However, scientists now say there is a one in 45,000 chance that it could hit the Pacific Ocean in 2036, creating a devastating tsunami.