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Asteroid Hearing In Congress Spotlights Threat Posed By Space Rocks

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LAMAR SMITH
House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) holds up a copy of TIME Magazine with a cover article about 'near-Earth objects' during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

The end might not be upon us, but Congress wants to plan ahead, just in case.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Tuesday held a hearing to plan for the possibility of an asteroid hitting the United States. This "Hearing on Space Threats " included testimony from officials in the White House, NASA and the Air Force, and sounded at times like a scene out of "Deep Impact."

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) opened the hearing by saying the U.S. has "a long way to go" to keep up with the threat posed by "asteroids, meteors, comets and meteorites," and added that an asteroid as small as 100 meters "could destroy an entire city upon a direct hit."

John Holdren, the White House's senior advisor for science and technology, gave similarly dire warnings. “Unfortunately, the number of undetected potential ‘city killers’ is very large,” he said, according to Bloomberg News.

Holdren added that scientists are powerless to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth: "The answer to you is, if it's coming in three weeks, pray."

But NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the risk of a large asteroid striking Earth is not a near-term concern. Bolden recommended instead that NASA simply stick to its current research program.

Smith raised doubts over whether NASA could "defy budget gravity and get an increase when everyone else is getting cuts." The agency, he argued, will nevertheless need to find a way to re-prioritize its current projects to focus more on the threat of a potential asteroid impact.

Tuesday's hearing was called after an asteroid came within 17,100 miles of Earth (the moon is about 238,900 miles from Earth) on Feb. 15, the same day a meteor injured about 1,200 people after exploding above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk.

A second asteroid threat hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, which you can watch on the Senate Commerce Committee website.

WATCH: Footage of the Russian meteor from Feb. 15.

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