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CNN "Newsroom" Transcript: Meteor in Russia

Interview

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BANFIELD: Jim, stand by for a moment because I want to just zip over to Capitol Hill, not somewhere I'd normally go for a science story, but the man on the scene is actually not only a congressman, but literally, a rocket scientist.

Congressman Rush Holt from New Jersey, the Democrat who happens to truly the title of rocket scientist, a PhD in physics, a former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory, arms control expert, as well. So, you're a great source to try to get information on this.

First of all, to the staff and the facts as we know them, the scientists are saying that they believe that this is one meteor that broke into fragments, but are you surprised at the incredible images and the damage that's it has rained upon that region?

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: No, I'm not surprised, Ashleigh. And there is a public policy side to it, so you're appropriate -- I mean, you're appropriately coming to Capitol Hill. There is something to talk about here besides the curiosity and the human interest story of injuries and upset there.

You know, there are lots of things from space that rain down on earth every day. Most of it is dust. It amounts to tons of material.

But when something the size of a foot or a yard or, you know, a meter across, that can carry a lot of energy, as much as a big explosion. In fact, it could be mistaken, in some cases, for a nuclear explosion. So, that's one of the reasons we need to watch these things.

BANFIELD: Which, in fact, I'm glad you mentioned that, Congressman, because I think there was an explosion in 2002 over the Mediterranean when India and Pakistan were really in heated -- at a heated time in their sort of pre-nuclear battles, so that is a critical issue if those can be mistaken for nuclear attacks.

We do have North Korea in a precarious situation, so, logistically speaking, how are governments handling this? I mean, it's fun for us all to cover this, but then you have all of these people injured and you have governments who need to be not only aware of the political implications, but, also, just the natural disaster implications.

HOLT: Sure. Well, that's why it makes sense to watch these things, and NASA has a near-Earth program. It is, I would argue, underfunded because of what's at stake here both in the sense of preparedness and dealing with injury and upset.

But also to deal with international incidents that might occur. You mentioned the 2002 meteorite over the Mediterranean. At the time, the deputy director of space command said that, if this had happened over the subcontinent, it might have been mistaken for a nuclear explosion in this rather belligerent stand-off between India and Pakistan at the time.

There's certainly occasions back in the Soviet Union days when the United States and Russia mistook natural occurrences for what might have been belligerent events, and so, you have to watch these things. And the NASA near-Earth program is important for all of those reasons.

As you pointed out, as your other guest pointed out, the energy that's contained in just say small rock, you know, a foot across or a couple of feet across, traveling at these velocities, can pack a lot of energy.

And, so, when it explodes, it's as if a nuclear explosion went off, obviously, not the radiation and that sort of thing, but the damage could be great.

BANFIELD: Well, Congressman Holt, I appreciate that you scrambled to the Rotunda to speak with us on this. Again, I don't normally go to Capitol Hill with a science crisis like this, but with your academics and your credentials, you were the perfect guest, and I appreciate you bringing your perspective.

Also to our Jim Boulden for the reporting. Thank you to both of you.


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