Experts to Dicsuss Dangers, Legal Issues of Thwarting Threatening Near-Earth Objects


A unique forum of experts from around the world is set to examine the dangers, prospects and legal issues of dealing with menacing Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

The meeting -- Near-Earth Objects: Risks, Responses and Opportunities -- will take place April 23 and 24 at The University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The university’s College of Law is hosting the conference that will examine the legal and institutional challenges of international protocols if large asteroids or other interplanetary objects come too close to Earth for comfort.

Secure World Foundation (SWF) is a co-sponsor of the event, in conjunction with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) and in partnership with the American Branch of the International Law Association.

“Examining how we, as an international community, develop a mechanism to make decisions on courses of action is a crucial building block in putting together an effective response to future NEO threats,” said Ben Baseley-Walker, SWF’s Legal and Policy Consultant.

“As a fundamentally global problem with profound potential geo-political implications should mitigation measures fail,” Baseley-Walker added, “it is essential to find a consensus on an international decision-making forum and mechanism well in advance of a crisis situation involving a NEO threat.”

Global Framework

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.

Taking part in the two-day program are members of a multinational committee who made recommendations last fall to the United Nations on establishing global framework to respond to NEO threats. That committee was commissioned by the ASE and chaired by former Apollo astronaut, Rusty Schweickart.

Frans von der Dunk, a leading academic in space law and professor of law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, serves on the international NEO committee. He said that existing space technology could deflect the vast majority of threatening asteroids.

But even after a threatening object may be discovered, no mechanism exists for effective international decision-making on how to deal with a threat, Von der Dunk added.

“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].”

Public Discussion

Astronaut Schweickart will hold a public discussion about protecting the Earth from future asteroid impacts April 22 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The former astronaut supports the development and testing of a spaceflight concept to protect the Earth from asteroid threats. Schweickart’s talk is set for 3 p.m. at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, 313 N. 13th St. This event is free and is open to the public.

For more information on this special conference, visit: http://conferences.unl.edu/nearearthobject/.

For media wishing to attend the two-day program, contact Steve Smith, National News Editor, at the phone number or e-mail address listed above.

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