NASA Inspector General Paul Martin has alerted of the awful state of the asteroid defence system, a program mandated by US Congress in 2005 to detect and track at least 90 per cent near-Earth objects greater than 140m in diameter by 2020. This is bad news.
From the report:
While the program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA estimates that it has identified only 10 per cent of all asteroids 140 meters and larger and will not meet the 2020 deadline [...]
a single program executive who manages a loosely structured, non-integrated conglomerate of research activities with little coordination, insufficient program oversight, and no established milestones to track progress.
In addition to that, the audit criticises the fact that the program is not working with the authorities to put programs in place in case a dangerous asteroid is detected, spending only seven per cent of its admittedly ridiculous $US40 million budget in planning defence strategies and emergency evacuations:
[L]ack of planning and resources has prevented the NEO Program from developing additional agreements that could help achieve program goals.
For example, establishing formal partnerships with the Department of Defence, the National Science Foundation, and international agencies could give the NEO Program access to additional Earth-based telescopes and thereby increase its ability to detect, track, and characterise a greater number of NEOs.
While some people may take all this lightly, this is not a joke. The possibility of an asteroid coming out of nowhere and hitting us is certainly there. It almost happened not so long ago, when an 18m meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013, unleashing the force of "30 atomic bombs, blowing out windows, destroying buildings, and injuring more than 1000 people." Had that meteorite hit the ground, the local damage would have been extraordinary. And, in that case, an early detection system could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Which is exactly why this program was mandated by Congress and why the international community should get their act together to make this detection and track system a reality. We can't just sit here and wait till one of these rocks hits some major city and kill a few millions out of the blue. No matter how low the probability may be, the danger is out there and it's very solid and real.
And now, here's an old video of the end of the world if something much, much bigger hit us. You know, because seeing civilisation and world life getting destroyed is always a lot fun.