Today’s Tidbits: June 20, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: June 20, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for June 20, 2018:  White House releases NEO preparedness action plan; Pentagon moving forward on Space Force; Mars dust storm goes global. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

White House Releases NEO Preparedness Action Plan

The White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) today released a long-awaited Action Plan to accompany a strategy developed during the Obama Administration on how to be prepared for threats to Earth posed by Near Earth Objects (NEOs) — comets and asteroids whose orbits bring them close to Earth.

The strategy was released at the end of the Obama Administration on January 3, 2017.  At the time, OSTP said the Action Plan was “forthcoming.”  Since then, the Trump Administration has paid scant attention to OSTP, which still does not have a Director a year and a half later.   But the Action Plan clearly was still percolating.

At a media teleconference today, OSTP’s Aaron Miles, NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson, and Leviticus Lewis from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) discussed the report and  interagency and international efforts to coordinate potential responses to threats.

This month is the 110th anniversary of the last major asteroid event.  A 50-foot diameter asteroid exploded in the air above Tunguska, Russia and flattened trees for 700 square miles.  A much smaller asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia five years ago, shattering windows and causing injuries, raising awareness of these threats. While rare, they do exist.

In fact, a June 6, 2018 Pew survey found that majorities of the U.S. public believe that tracking asteroids is the second most important thing NASA should do (studying climate change was first, but only slightly).

We live tweeted the media telecon.   Check our Twitter feed (@SpcPlcyOnline) for real-time tweets.  Here are some of the key ones:

Pentagon Moving Forward on Space Force

President Trump said at Monday’s meeting of the National Space Council that “[w]e are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal.” He directed the Pentagon “to immediately begin the process” to establish the Space Force, then turned to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  and told him to “carry out that assignment.”  Dunford said “We got it.”

And it appears that is exactly what the Pentagon is going to do.  Begin a process. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said on Tuesday that DOD’s policy board “will begin working” on the issue according to Air Force magazine.  It quoted her as saying: “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberative process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.” []

Multiple media sources also are reporting that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth O. Wright sent a memo to Air Force personnel yesterday telling them not to expect changes soon.  They also stressed that it will be a deliberative process.

Congress would have to pass a law and provide funding to create a Space Force.  It has been debating this issue for many years already. An initial version of a congressionally-chartered study is due in August, with the final report expected in December.

Mars Dust Storm Goes Global

As forecast, that dust storm on Mars has become global.   The fate of the Opportunity rover remains unknown, but its cousin, Curiosity, on the other side of the planet, is sending back photos showing the growing opacity of the Mars atmosphere.  NASA released this photo today, but it was taken on June 15.

A self-portrait taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018). A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover’s location in Gale Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity isn’t bothered by the dust.  It is nuclear-powered, but Opportunity relies on sunlight to fall on its solar panels and recharge the batteries.   An opaque atmosphere means not much (if any) sunlight reaches the panels.  The big concern is that the rover will freeze to death without the batteries to keep it warm.

NASA said today that it still has not heard from Opportunity — or Oppy as it is fondly known.  Oppy’s human team was optimistic about how long it could hang on.  They listen every day hoping to hear the rover phone home to let everyone know it’s OK.

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