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NASA Establishes Near-Earth Object Program Office At JPL

Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC                        July 14, 1998
(Phone:  202/358-1727)

Mary Beth Murrill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone:  818/354-5011)

RELEASE:  98-123


       A new program office to coordinate NASA-sponsored efforts 
to detect, track and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids 
and comets that could approach Earth will be established at NASA's 
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA.

       NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office will focus on the 
goal of locating at least 90 percent of the estimated 2,000 
asteroids and comets that approach the Earth and are larger than 
about 2/3-mile (about 1 kilometer) in diameter, by the end of the 
next decade.

       "These are objects that are difficult to detect because of 
their relatively small size, but are large enough to cause global 
effects if one hit the Earth," said Dr. Donald K. Yeomans of JPL, 
who will head the new program office.  "Finding a majority of this 
population will require the efforts of researchers at several NASA 
centers, at universities and at observatories across the country, 
and will require the participation by the international astronomy 
community as well."

       "We determined that, in order to achieve our goals, we need 
a more formal focusing of our near-Earth object tracking efforts 
and related communications with the supporting research 
community," said Dr. B. Carl Pilcher, science director for Solar 
System Exploration in NASA's Office of Space Science, NASA 
Headquarters.  "I want to emphasize that science research 
solicitations and resulting peer reviews, international 
coordination, and strategic planning regarding future missions 
will remain the responsibilities of NASA Headquarters."

       In addition to managing the detection and cataloging of 
near-Earth objects, the new NASA office will be responsible for 
facilitating communications between the astronomical community and 
the public should any potentially hazardous objects be discovered 
as a result of the program, Pilcher said.

       JPL was selected to host the program office because of its 
expertise in precisely tracking the positions and predicted paths 
of asteroids and comets.  No significant additional staff hiring 
at JPL is expected at this time.

       A fact sheet describing NASA's research and spacecraft 
missions related to asteroids and comets is available on the 
Internet at the following address:



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