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Report: NASA can't keep up with killer asteroids

NASA is charged with seeking out nearly all asteroids that threaten Earth but doesn't have the money to do the job, a federal report says.

That's because even though Congress assigned the agency this mission four years ago, it never gave NASA money to build the necessary telescopes, a National Academy of Sciences report says. Specifically, NASA has been ordered to spot 90 percent of the potentially deadly rocks hurtling through space by 2020.

Even so, NASA says it's completed about one-third of its assignment with its current telescope system. NASA estimates that there are about 20,000 asteroids and comets in our solar system that are potential threats to Earth. They are larger than 460 feet in diameter — slightly smaller than the Superdome in New Orleans. So far, scientists know where about 6,000 of these objects are.

Rocks between 460 feet and 3,280 feet in diameter can devastate an entire region but not the entire globe, said Lindley Johnson, NASA's manager of the near-Earth objects program.

Last month an object of unknown size and origin bashed into Jupiter and created an Earth-sized bruise that is still spreading. Jupiter does get slammed more often than Earth because of its gravity, size and location.

NASA calculated that to spot the asteroids as required by law would cost about $800 million between now and 2020. If NASA got $300 million it could find most asteroids bigger than 1,000 feet across. So far NASA has gotten neither sum, and may never.

"The program is a little bit of a lame duck," said John Logsdon, a space policy professor at George Washington University. There is not a big enough group pushing for the money, he said.

'Burquini' doesn't cut it in France

A Muslim woman garbed in a head-to-toe swimsuit — dubbed a "burquini," similar to the one shown above — may have opened a new chapter in France's tussle between religious practices and its stern secular code. Officials insisted Wednesday they banned the woman's use of the suit at an Emerainville pool because of France's hygiene standards — not out of hostility to overtly Muslim garb. The issue of religious attire is a hot topic in France, where head-to-toe burqas or other full-body coverings worn by some Muslim fundamentalists are in official disfavor.

Boston works out bike-share network

Boston officials are hoping to reach a final agreement with a Canadian company to create what would be the largest urban bike-sharing system in the United States. Officials are in talks with the Public Bike System Co. in Montreal to install a network of 2,500 bikes and 290 stations across the city by next summer, with the option of expanding to a 5,000-bike system. The system allows people to rent bikes from one location with a credit card, pedal to their destination, and drop off the bike at another location.

One arrest in heist, robbers on loose

Police in London said Wednesday they have arrested a suspect in connection with a daring daytime heist that netted $65 million worth of jewelry from a prominent diamond merchant last week. The 50-year-old man, who was subsequently released on bail, is not one of two dapper dressers captured in security camera footage released by Scotland Yard on Tuesday. Police believe at least two others helped the pair escape.

Report: NASA can't keep up with killer asteroids 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 8:54pm]
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