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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Space head: Russia may send spacecraft to asteroid -to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.

Reading -Space head: Russia may send spacecraft to asteroid -to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.

MOSCOW – Russia's space chief said Wednesday his agency will consider sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.

Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, telling Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37.

Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above Earth's surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

In October, NASA lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 as earlier thought to a 1-in-250,000 chance after researchers recalculated the asteroid's path. It said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

Scientists have long theorized about asteroid deflection strategies. Some have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or using nuclear weapons to hit it.

Without mentioning NASA findings, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. "I don't remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032," Perminov said.

He wouldn't disclose any details of the project, saying they still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn't require any nuclear explosions.

Hollywood action films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," have featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent collisions.

"Calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges," Perminov said. "The threat of collision can be averted."

"People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people," he added.

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov's statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.

"Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about," he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

GMAC Set for Another Cash Infusion - U.S. Expected to Lend Firm $3.5 Billion to Help Cover Mortgage Losses; Aid Bill Already at $12.5 Billion

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GMAC Set for Another Cash Infusion - U.S. Expected to Lend Firm $3.5 Billion to Help Cover Mortgage Losses; Aid Bill Already at $12.5 Billion

GMAC Financial Services is close to getting approximately $3.5 billion in additional aid from the U.S. government, on top of $12.5 billion already received since December 2008, according to people familiar with the situation.

The announcement, expected within days, will coincide with GMAC taking additional steps to absorb losses related to its mortgage operations, these people said. The cleanup is designed to return the Detroit-based finance company to profitability in the first quarter of 2010, according to one of these people.

A GMAC spokeswoman declined to comment on any potential government action but said, "GMAC has been conducting a strategic review of its business and evaluating options to address the challenges in its mortgage operation." The spokeswoman said GMAC wants to prepare itself to repay the U.S. government.

The willingness by the U.S. Treasury to deepen taxpayer exposure to GMAC reflects the troubled company's importance to the revival of the auto industry. The company was told to raise additional capital as part of government-led stress tests of large banks conducted earlier this year. The tests were to determine whether firms would need more capital to continue lending if the economy deteriorated in 2009 and 2010.

GMAC has only filled a portion of its capital hole and, unlike other banks that participated in the stress tests, has been unable to attract much capital from private investors. The Treasury said earlier this year that it would make as much money available to GMAC as needed to fill its capital hole and projected the firm would need another government infusion of as much as $5.6 billion.

GMAC's capital needs have turned out to be somewhat less than originally envisioned, in part because impact from the bankruptcies of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. was not as severe as federal regulators originally projected.

A Treasury spokesman said Tuesday: "As we stated on Nov. 9, Treasury is in discussions with GMAC to ensure its capital needs as determined last May by the stress tests are met."

GMAC has argued it didn't need additional support.

The Treasury has authority to provide funds to GMAC through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the $700 billion program authorized by Congress at the height of the financial crisis. This will be the first big infusion to a single company in several months. The Treasury has been working to wind down many of the TARP programs as the financial crisis eases, and it has already seen $175 billion returned from banks.

The Treasury agreed to inject $5 billion into GMAC in December 2008, as part of a broader rescue of the auto sector, and another $7.5 billion in May after the stress tests were completed. That $7.5 billon was considered by the Treasury to be a down payment, with additional funds likely coming later.

Bloomberg News

An announcement of federal aid to GMAC is expected in days. Here, a Winston-Salem, N.C., office of subsidiary GMAC Insurance in May.

The government's existing 35.4% stake in GMAC is likely to eventually increase, a move that could give the government more control over the firm, including the right to appoint additional directors to GMAC's board. GMAC is subject to pay restrictions imposed by the government's pay czar.

The additional financing comes as many other companies that received large sums of government aid have begun repaying the government, including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

GMAC, founded in 1919, provides wholesale financing for thousands of General Motors and Chrysler dealerships across the U.S., meaning scores of local distributors would be unable to bring cars onto their lots if GMAC were to collapse.

The new capital will likely allow GMAC to avoid placing its ailing mortgage unit, Residential Capital LLC, or ResCap, into bankruptcy, these people said. GMAC had set the end of the year as a deadline for deciding ResCap's fate after losses from loans made to borrowers with shaky credit dragged down GMAC's results in 2009. The mortgage unit lost $2.7 billion through the first three quarters of 2009 following $9.96 billion of losses in 2008 and 2007.

The fate of ResCap was a flash point between the board and GMAC's former chief executive, Alvaro de Molina, who was ousted in November following clashes with the government and his directors. Board member Michael Carpenter succeeded Mr. de Molina. Some board members were upset, saying management had left out bankruptcy as an option; management's view was that it had presented all options, including a potential sale, and the board was unable to make a decision.

The mortgage-related write-downs to be announced as early as this week will affect assets held by ResCap and Ally Bank, GMAC's online bank. Ally Bank was created after the company received approval in late 2008 to convert to a bank holding company and qualify for government money under TARP. The arrangement left the Federal Reserve with regulatory authority over the parent.

Ally's pursuit of deposits at high rates became a key leg of its strategy, since deposits provide a cheap form of funding, but the taxpayer-assisted approach rankled competitors and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Ally and FDIC reached an agreement that requires GMAC to keep its rates at certain levels in exchange for FDIC's support, according to people familiar with the situation.