Inside the Beltway

Diapers or disaster

The whispering around NASA headquarters this week is that Anna Nicole Smith’s death, while tragic and untimely, couldn’t have come at a better time for the embattled space agency.

Within minutes of the former Playboy Playmate’s death, every 24-hour cable-TV channel and tabloid in the land had all but forgotten about the scorned lady astronaut — what was her name? — who purportedly climbed into a diaper and drove to Florida to settle a score.

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale tried to point out after Lisa Marie Nowak’s arrest Feb. 5 that there are far more urgent matters for NASA employees and members of the press to be concerned about than what everybody was trying to shape into a lurid love triangle.

Nobody was listening, that is until Mrs. Smith’s sudden death, which not only grabbed the week’s headlines, but every day since every man except this one has come forward to claim her love child as theirs.

Anyway, back to NASA, we are taking the deputy administrator’s advice and now concentrating on more pressing matters that could affect us all, like making sure the sky isn’t falling.

Take NASA’s in-house interview with Don Yeomans, head of the space agency’s Near-Earth Object Program office, and his colleague Steve Chesley. The two scientists were discussing asteroids and comets, which are certainly fun to watch until they get too close.

“We have about 4,300 near-Earth objects in the catalog at the moment,” Mr. Chesley reports. “We’re most interested in finding the large objects, what we consider to be those that could, say, threaten the climate of the Earth if they were to impact.” (“The climate,” in this case, sugar-coating for “the life.”)

As was pointed out in the interview, these larger objects are four times the size of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. And don’t go rushing out to look now, but scientists have discovered more than 700 such “large” objects, with 120 of them, in varying sizes, having the potential to impact Earth.

“No one knows of a friend or a loved one who has been hurt by a near-Earth object, that’s true,” is how Mr. Yeomans puts it. “So these are very low-probability events, but very high-consequence events.”

He concludes: “None of the known near-Earth objects have scientists staying up nights worrying. So for now, they say, the sky is not falling.”

Rowland rising

Kara Rowland, a business reporter for The Washington Times, took first place in the inaugural “Rising Star” competition at the FishbowlDC Web site — www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlDC — winning 60,000 votes of the 180,000 cast in the online poll, according to the site’s editor, Patrick W. Gavin.

The object of the contest was to identify “up and coming journalism stars in Washington, people who may only have a few years of journalism under their belts but who look to take the town by storm,” Mr. Gavin said in announcing the competition last month.

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