MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 (818) 354-5011
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

Contact: Mary Beth Murrill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEJuly 14, 1998

JPL SELECTED FOR NEAR-EARTH OBJECT PROGRAM OFFICE

       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, 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 1 kilometer (about 2/3-mile) 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. Carl B. 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 responsibility 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 precision tracking the positions and predicted paths of asteroids and comets. No significant additional staff hiring at JPL is expected at this time.

       More information on NASA's research related to asteroids and comets is available on the Internet at: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/facts/HTML/FS-023-HQ.htm

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7/14/98 MBM