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H.R.4613: The Pete Conrad Awards Bill: U.S. To Honor NEO Activities of Amateur Astronomers

Status Report From: Rep. Rohrabacher
Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2002

  • H.R.4613, Library of Congress
    Sponsor: Rep Rohrabacher, Dana (introduced 4/25/2002)
    Latest Major Action: 4/25/2002 Referred to House committee.
    Latest Status: Referred to the House Committee on House Administration.

    Title: To authorize the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to establish an awards program in honor of Charles "Pete" Conrad, astronaut and space scientist, for recognizing the discoveries made by amateur astronomers of asteroids with near-Earth orbit trajectories.


    Excerpt from Congressional Record

    PETE CONRAD AWARDS BILL -- (House of Representatives - April 25, 2002) [Page: H1669] GPO's PDF

    Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Charles Pete Conrad Astronomy Award Act. This act is intended to encourage amateur astronomers to discover new and attract previously identified asteroids and other heavenly bodies, particularly those that threaten a close approach to the Earth. This act is named after the legendary pilot, astronomer and space entrepreneur, Pete Conrad, who I was honored to know. He was a constituent of mine as well. Unfortunately, he passed away after a tragic motorcycle accident just last year. Charles Pete Conrad made history and today in his honor and in his memory I am introducing a bill that could help protect the United States of America and, yes, the entire world.

    Pete Conrad more than anything else was a patriot who loved his country and felt that space would provide peace and prosperity for all of human kind. This act contains three categories of awards.

    The first category is an award for the amateur astronomer who discovers the largest asteroid crossing in near-Earth orbit.

    The second category, an award to an amateur astronomer for discovering asteroids using information derived from professional sources and locating newly discovered asteroids.

    The third category, an award for those who provide the greatest service to update Minor Planet Center's catalog of known asteroids.

    Let me just state that for those people who believe that there is no threat and that we live in a world today where those movies that talked about asteroids colliding with the world and the threat that it posed, that that is all science fiction, I have got bad news for them. It is not science fiction.

    There are numerous examples of asteroids and comets in the last few years that have come very near to the world and not been undetected until the last minute or even after they pass by the world. One of them was coming in from the Sun and was not seen until after it passed the Earth's orbit.

    If any of these asteroids or comets would have hit the Earth, it would have been a catastrophic occasion, perhaps killing hundreds of millions of people. Perhaps in one case in the past, millions of years ago, that is perhaps what eliminated the dinosaur life on our planet.

    The following is a list of examples of recently observed asteroids:

    * An asteroid about 300 meters in size crossed a near-Earth orbit about 500,000 miles from our planet in October of last year.

    * An asteroid about the size of three football fields made its closest approach to the Earth (roughly the same distance: twice the Moon's distance from the Earth) on January 7, 2002.

    * An asteroid reportedly the size of an 18-story building on a close approach to Earth (just a bit farther out than the Moon) was observed on March 8.

    The disturbing point about this asteroid is that it was seen from Earth again only after it had moved out of the glare of the Sun and into the night sky on March 12.

    For each nearby asteroid that is spotted there are several that pass entirely unnoticed.

    Some researchers estimated that there are roughly 25 asteroids, roughly the size of the one observed on March 12, cross a near-Earth orbit that is closer than the Moon. Astronomers believe that the number of undiscovered asteroids far exceeds the known list currently available to the scientific community.

    We need to know if there is a threat coming at the world. And having our young people, giving them awards, having amateur astronomers look into the sky to help us find those objects is something that we are mobilizing the people to help us discover that possible threat. If we see something coming at us that is years away, then we can handle that. We can do something about it. If we do not find out until a mere month or two beforehand, the Earth could be in real danger.

    I was the chairman of a hearing in which we had the experts testify on this issue; and one expert said, Congressman, you do not have to worry about that. There is about as much chance of a comet hitting the Earth as it is of you going to Las Vegas and getting a royal straight flush. And I said, Oh, my gosh. I did get a royal straight flush once. I remember that happening.

    So this is a real threat, but it is not something we have to fear. It is something we have to look at and try to find a way to identify threats. It is called Home Planet Defense. We need to pay some attention to it; and then if an asteroid does threaten us, we will be able to identify it far in advance and deter it from its path so it would not hurt the people of the world.

    This is the purpose of this Pete Conrad bill. We want to get our young people more interested in space and science and mathematics. This bill is a way to do it. The awards will be administered by the Smithsonian Institution, and I am asking all of my colleagues to join me in co-sponsoring the Pete Conrad Award bill because this bill will do a great deal in bringing to our young people the realities of science and America's space program. Let us get them off of these electronic games and get them into the real world and the real world may well be dealing with threats coming to us from outer space from great distances away, asteroids and comets that we should know about.

    Again, I ask my colleagues to join me in co-sponsoring the Charles Pete Conrad Astronomy Award Act, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and seeing that we get young Americans looking up just like Pete Conrad, always looking up and getting involved.


    Text of Legislation

    HR 4613 IH

    107th CONGRESS

    2d Session

    H. R. 4613

    To authoaEWj the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to establish an awards program in honor of Charles `Pete' Conrad, astronaut and space scientist, for recognizing the discoveries made by amateur astronomers of asteroids with near-Earth orbit trajectories.

    IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    APRIL 25, 2002

    Mr. ROHRABACHER introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on House Administration


    A BILL

    To authorize the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to establish an awards program in honor of Charles `Pete' Conrad, astronaut and space scientist, for recognizing the discoveries made by amateur astronomers of asteroids with near-Earth orbit trajectories.

      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

    SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

      This Act may be cited as the `Charles `Pete' Conrad Astronomy Awards Act'.

    SEC. 2. PETE CONRAD ASTRONOMY AWARD PROGRAM.

      (a) PROGRAM AUTHORIZED- The Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution is authorized to establish the Charles `Pete' Conrad Astronomy Awards Program to be administered by the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

      (b) PURPOSE- The purpose of the program authorized by subsection (a) shall be to award outstanding amateur astronomers who make asteroid discoveries and to augment asteroid discovery efforts by the Government.

      (c) AWARD CATEGORIES- The award program authorized under subsection (a) shall consist of 3 categories of awards as follows:

        (1) FIRST CATEGORY- An award in the first category shall be presented annually to the amateur astronomer who, using amateur equipment only, discovers the largest absolute magnitude new asteroid having a near-Earth orbit during the preceding calendar year.

        (2) SECOND CATEGORY- An award in the second category shall be presented annually to an amateur astronomer for pre-discovery and recovery efforts, including--

          (A) the discovery of asteroids by an amateur as a result of information produced by professional telescopes or as a result of the amateur's use of time on professional equipment; and

          (B) efforts to locate newly discovered asteroids using old images and already discovered near-Earth orbit asteroids that have been `lost'.

        (3) THIRD CATEGORY- An award in the third category shall be presented annually to the amateur astronomer, or professional not funded for optical astronomy, who provides the greatest service to update the minor planet catalogue. Eligible discoveries may be made by visual, photographic, or electronic means.

      (d) GUIDELINES FOR AWARDING PRIZES- General guidelines for the awarding of prizes are as follows:

        (1) Prizes shall be awarded to the person or group with the greatest contributions as determined by the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Center for the second and third categories.

        (2) The award in the first category shall not be presented for years in which there are no eligible asteroid discoveries.

        (3) All awards are reserved for United States citizens.

        (4) The decision of the Minor Planet Center in presenting the awards is final.

      (e) ELIGIBILITY- Individuals are eligible to apply for the awards authorized under this section if the following conditions are satisfied:

        (1) All applicants must demonstrate that they are not funded to use professional telescopes or observations and are acting solely in an amateur capacity.

        (2) Government and professional astronomers associated with the near-Earth orbit asteroid project, as well as members of their immediate families, are not eligible for the awards.

      (f) REGULATIONS- The Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory may prescribe such regulations as may be necessary to implement the program authorized by this section.

      (g) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There are authorized to be appropriated to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution $10,000 for each of fiscal year 2003 and 2004 to carry out this Act.

    // end //

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