Friday, 3 November 2000
1. SPACE STATION: THE RETURN TO FLAG-POLE SITTING.
probably the most significant event in manned spaceflight since
the launch of Uri Gagarin almost 40 years ago," crowed the U.S.
flight director. Could this be so? Two Russians and an American
boarded the spacecraft yesterday for a four-month stay that will
involve neither research nor exploration. They are there to fix
the toilet, and stow supplies. "This is the last day, barring
unforeseen circumstances, that we will not have a human presence
in space." That's what human spaceflight is down to. There were
vague references to unspecified future research, but no one even
mentioned growing protein crystals, which NASA had featured in
its space station propaganda. In Congressional testimony, NASA
claimed that crystals grown on the shuttle had been used to
develop a new flu drug, but Science magazine (25 June 99)
found that they were, in fact, grown in Australia
(WN 3 Mar 00).
2. GOT CARBON?
Fredrick Palmer, General Manager of the Western
Fuels Association, held a press conference on Monday proclaiming
the wonders of carbon dioxide. "It's food," Palmer beamed. His
"scientific" report, The Greening of the American West, compares
photos of western landscapes taken around the 1850s to ones taken
around the 1990s. Sure enough, the 1990s photos show more trees!
Conclusion: increasing CO2 helps things grow. But the effect is
even more dramatic than that. I did a quick check of my own
photo album: I've grown almost five feet in the last 65 years!
3. THE FAT LADY FINALLY SINGS.
One week to go before the election
and Congress and the White House at long last have come to an
agreement on the DOE, NSF and NASA budgets. The numbers should
put smiles on the faces of scientists, who have labored for
months making the case for federal R&D investments. Last spring,
appropriators predicted that allocation ceilings eventually would
be lifted. It happened, and science accounts emerged from
conference at levels higher than either the House or Senate had
approved separately during the summer. DOE Basic Energy Sciences
leads the pack boasting a 30% increase, with DOE Science rising
14% in the aggregate. NSF's Research and Related Activities
jumps more than 13%, with Math and Physical Sciences up almost
12%. DOE's fusion and high-energy and nuclear physics, which had
faced cuts in the Senate, emerge with roughly cost-of-living
increases. NASA space science climbs more than 13%. Yeehaw!
4. WHISTLE BLOWERS BEWARE.
A new anti-leak law making disclosure
of any "properly classified" information a felony, punishable by
up to 3 years imprisonment, has drawn fire from media and civil
liberties groups, who are urging a presidential veto. Senator
Moynihan(D-NY), who has attacked the broadness of the bill, put
it this way. "Do you know what it takes to classify something
'Top Secret'? You...buy a stamp that says 'Top Secret.'"