Friday, 24 March 2000
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: PENTAGON POSTPONES "DECISIVE" TEST.
televised speech on March 23, 1983, President Reagan called on
"the scientific community, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to
turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world
peace," by finding a way to, "intercept and destroy strategic
ballistic missiles before they reach our soil." There was no
celebration yesterday to mark the "Star Wars" anniversary. On
the contrary, the Pentagon announced Tuesday that the third test
of a hit-to-kill interceptor would be delayed by at least two
months, pushing back President Clinton's deployment decision
(WN 24 Nov 99)
to October. The 17-year history of missile defense is
littered with the remains of failed concepts--chemical lasers, X-
ray lasers, brilliant pebbles. Which reminds me that yesterday
was also the anniversary of the 1989 announcement of cold fusion.
Coincidence? Or did Reagan and Pons consult the same astrologer?
2. MARS POLAR LANDER: WHO KNEW WHAT--AND WHEN DID THEY KNOW IT?
In Senate testimony Wednesday, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin
denied a UPI story that NASA officials knew before the spacecraft
ever reached Mars that there was a serious flaw in the Lander's
braking rocket, but withheld the information from the public.
According to the UPI story, when the catalyst used to ignite the
hydrazine fuel failed to function properly in tests conducted at
the predicted temperature of the spacecraft, the temperature was
raised until it worked. Goldin insists engineers conducted
honest tests and believed the problem was solved. A NASA review
board is expected to report on the incident next week. Back at
JPL, engineers erred in the opposite direction by subjecting the
High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager to a shake test 10 times
more severe than intended, resulting in major damage.
3. MIR: MARRIAGE OF SPACE AND SHOW BIZ WAS NEVER CONSUMMATED.
Much to the dismay of NASA, two cosmonauts are scheduled to
return to the leaky spacecraft on April 4. But actor Vladimir
(WN 4 Feb 00),
the Rick Rockwell of space, will not be
one of them. Like previous private bailout plans, the fare was
too high and the prospects too slim
(WN 14 Jan 00).
A Russian space agency spokesman admits that financial problems remain.
4. DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS: ADVERSE REACTIONS ARE UNDER-REPORTED.
The 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, passed
after a huge lobbying campaign by the $14B supplement industry,
exempts natural substances from FDA oversight. Suppliers do not
have to establish safety or efficacy, nor is any agency
responsible for insuring that the supplement contains what is
listed on the label. A four-part investigative report in the
Washington Post this week exposed a huge disparity between the
actual number of adverse events from herbal products and the
number reported to the FDA. More on this issue in coming weeks.