Apollo 9 Astronaut to Kick Off Conference on 'Near-Earth Object' Risks

Released: 4/8/2009 4:50 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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Newswise — Rusty Schweickart, a member of the Apollo 9 flight that was a key forerunner to the manned moon mission, will hold a public discussion April 22 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about protecting the Earth from future asteroid impacts.

Schweickart, who supports the development and testing of a spaceflight concept to protect the Earth from asteroid threats, will speak at 3 p.m. at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, 313 N. 13th St. The event is free and open to the public.

The event kicks off a two-day gathering at the University of Nebraska College of Law to examine the dangers, prospects and legal issues of dealing with Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). "Near-Earth Objects: Risks, Responses and Opportunities," will be April 23 and 24 and will examine the legal and institutional challenges of international protocols if large asteroids or other interplanetary objects come too close to Earth for comfort. The conference also will feature a simulation of a response to NEO impact scenarios.

The College of Law is a natural host for the conference. The college has the only master of laws program in space and telecommunications law offered in the United States. The college offers a credential that can launch people into careers dealing with legal issues associated with commercial space travel, satellite placement and the transmission of information.

The forum will attract experts from around the world, including members of a multinational committee who made recommendations last fall on establishing global frameworks to respond to NEO threats. The committee, commissioned by the Association of Space Explorers and chaired by Schweickart, will meet during the conference to discuss its future role in making its recommendations a reality.
Frans von der Dunk, the leading academic in space law and professor of law at UNL, serves on the international NEO committee. He said that existing space technology could deflect the vast majority of threatening asteroids, but even if a threatening object is discovered, no mechanism exists for effective international decision-making on how to deal with a threat.

"It's so important we establish an international framework to make decisions as early and as quickly as possible," Von der Dunk said. "It's essential so that we can take effective action (to deal with a future threat)."

Near-Earth Objects are an increasing area of concern among the world's space scientists. Experts believe that over the next 15 years, advances in technology will lead to the detection of more than 500,000 NEOs -- and of those, several dozen will likely pose an uncomfortably high risk of striking Earth and inflicting local or regional damage.

In October, an SUV-sized asteroid hit the atmosphere over northern Sudan and exploded 23 miles up with the force of a thousand tons of dynamite.
The law college will host the conference in conjunction with the Association of Space Explorers, with co-sponsorship of the Secure World Foundation and supported by the American Branch of the International Law Association. For more information on the conference's times, locations and participants, visit http://conferences.unl.edu/nearearthobject/. For more information on Nebraska's Space Law and Telecommunications program, visit http://law.unl.edu/spacelaw.


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