An ounce of prevention
Big science projects face a tough time in Congress these days. Many members are focused more than ever on the question of value, or what the research is likely to produce in benefits.
NASA has a compelling answer to the value question regarding a new initiative: Potentially saving humanity and Earth.
The agency calls the project the "Grand Challenge" - to detect all objects in space that could hit Earth and figuring out how to divert them.
This is not science fiction. Research in recent years has proved that the planet has been struck by large objects from space far more often than had been thought.
On Feb. 15, the same day that a large asteroid passed within the moon's orbit, an unexpected meteor exploded over the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk. It's a good idea to be prepared for even nastier surprises.
The project will build on other NASA programs, particularly its plan to capture an asteroid and put it in orbit near the moon, then send astronauts to study it.
Deterring a large asteroid from a collision with Earth would be "one of the most important accomplishments in human history," said Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Congress should authorize that effort, thus potentially avoiding the greatest regret in human history.