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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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