UND Space Studies Colloquium Series Hosts Planetary Science Institute CEO Mark Sykes

The Spring 2013 University of North Dakota (UND) Space Studies Colloquium Series focuses on the general theme “Near-Earth Asteroid Mining” and has already featured several leading experts in the field. The next presentation in this series features Mark V. Sykes. Sykes is CEO and director, Planetary Science Institute. He will present “The Politics and Promise of Near-Earth Asteroids” at 4 p.m. Monday, April 8, 111 Ryan Hall.

About the Topic:

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are viewed primarily as hazards. One is noted for killing off the dinosaurs. This February, a bus-sized object exploded over the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring more than 1500 people. The perceived threat drove Congress in 1998 to direct NASA to find 90 percent of asteroids having diameters exceeding 1 km. Recognizing the potential damage from another Siberian airburst over Tunguska in 1908, Congress modified its mandate in 2005 to include objects down to 140 meters in diameter. However, asteroids represent more than just threats – they also represent the potential to expand human presence and economy beyond Earth. The Obama administration has committed to sending a crewed mission to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, and it is planning to propose that Congress allocate $100 million next year to begin planning for a mission to return a 5 meter object to Earth orbit. A non-profit company says it will raise hundreds of millions in donations to survey NEOs to reduce the hazard threat. Private companies have started up with the goal of mining asteroids and turning a profit. Is this the Dawn of a new space age? Or business as usual?

About the Speaker: 

Mark V. Sykes is CEO and director of the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), a non-profit corporation dedicated to the exploration of the solar system. Mark began his science career as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, studying photometric and polarimetric light curves of eclipsing stellar binaries. As a graduate student at the University of Oregon, he discovered cometary dust trails using data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite and engaged in ground-based studies of asteroids in the thermal infrared band. He is a co-investigator on the NASA Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt. Sykes chairs the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group, which provides science input for the planning and prioritization of the exploration of asteroids and comets. He is also a member of the board of advisors of Planetary Resources, Inc., a for-profit corporation planning to mine asteroids. He is also involved with PSI’s Atsa Suborbital Observatory and plans to travel into space to make telescopic observations using the XCOR Lynx as a platform.

If you’re unable to attend in person may view the live webcast via Connect-Pro: http://connect.aero.und.edu/colloquium/. Sign in as a guest or use your Connect-Pro log-in.

A live webcast is also available at http://realmedia.aero.und.edu/liveclass.html.

Juan Miguel Pedraza
University and Public Affairs
777.6571 | juan.pedraza@UND.edu.