Friday, 31 March 2000
1. MARS: SOFTWARE GLITCH DOOMED THE POLAR LANDER.
In the absence
of any telemetry data during its descent (left off the spacecraft
to reduce costs) it was not expected that the cause of the Mars
Polar Lander failure could be determined. During testing of a
lander originally scheduled for launch in 2001, however, a fatal
flaw was found in the software that would have caused the descent
engines to shut down prematurely. That mission has now been
rescheduled for 2003. If the problem had surfaced before the MPL
reached Mars, it could have been corrected by a single line of
code. Other fatal flaws were not ruled out. No probable cause
was found for the failure of the Deep Space-2 microprobes that
were piggybacked on the lander, but an independent assessment
team headed by Thomas Young concluded that the microprobes "were
not adequately tested and were not ready for launch."
2. ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: "CONSUMER DEMAND" DRIVES NIH PROGRAM.
It had the feel of a post-game celebration. Arlen Specter (R-PA)
and Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair and ranking member of the Senate
Labor, HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, held a hearing this week
devoted to self-congratulations on having created the new
National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH,
with a budget of $68.7M. It's "for the people," they exulted,
42% of whom spend some $27B annually for therapies ranging from
magnets to herbal supplements. No mention was made of the
growing number of fatal reactions to untested supplements
(WN 24 Mar 00).
The Center replaces the Office of Complementary and
Alternative Medicine that was headed by Wayne Jonas, a homeopath.
The new Director, Stephen Strauss, an NIH virologist, is reputed
to be a serious researcher. In addition to such CAM gurus as
Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil, there was the usual parade of
grateful patients: "I was a shattered woman," one testified,
"angry at God." Then she discovered Herbert Benson's Mind-Body
Institute and had a baby. Benson wants studies of the placebo
effect, to show how the mind heals the body, but Harkin proposed
discarding the term "placebo effect." "It's real medicine," he
insisted. The next Specter-Harkin goal? Complementary and
alternative medicine in the curriculum of every medical school.
3. WARP DRIVE: THE BRITS ALSO PURSUE PROPELLANTLESS PROPULSION.
If the laws of physics are standing in the way of progress, it's
time to change the laws of physics. Clearly, spewing out rocket
propellant isn't getting us to the stars. So BAE Systems, formed
by merging British Aerospace with Marconi Electronic Systems,
created "Project Greenglow," patterned after NASA's Breakthrough
Propulsion Physics program
(WN 20 Nov 98).
Like BPP, BAE is attempting to replicate the Podkletnov gravity shield
(WN 15 Aug 97).
If you can build a gravity shield, of course, you can build
a perpetual motion machine thus defeating the First Law of
Thermodynamics. It won't be the first war the Brits have lost.