2 March 2001
1. LOW-EARTH ORBIT: BAD NEWS FOR HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT.
the space station is $4B over budget, and Bush has other things
he would rather waste money on. Maybe, the Bush budget proposal
suggests, NASA could just drop some of its plans for the space
station -- cut a little crew space perhaps, and trim back the
science program. The plan is to declare the ISS "complete" as
soon as it can keep US promises to accommodate the various
modules and attachments agreed to with our "partners." The Bush
proposal amounts to a major scale back of human space flight.
Yesterday, NASA scrapped the X-33 space plane after $1.3B and
five years. NASA now has no replacement for the aging shuttle.
2. MARS: MAYBE IT'S TIME THEY LOOKED AT A DIFFERENT ROCK.
August of 1996. Congress was finishing up the appropriation
process. NASA called a press conference to announce the results
of an analysis of a meteorite found in Antarctica that was
believed to have come from Mars. The study team claimed to have
found fossil evidence of Martian life in the rock
(WN 9 Aug 96).
By the time the appropriation process was complete, there was a
scientific consensus that the features were not from organic
(WN 27 Dec 96).
Analysis of the rock, however, went
on. Now, five years later, NASA reports chains of magnetite
crystals in the rock that might suggest a biological origin.
This new discovery coincides with an intense lobbying campaign by
space romantics in the Mars Society
(WN 21 Aug 98),
who hope to
persuade the new administration to commit to human exploration
and settlement of the red planet. Yeah, sure. But maybe it
wouldn't hurt to have a robot fetch a fresh Mars sample first.
3. READ MY LIPS, NO MORE SCIENCE.
Aside from bio-medicine, the
president's budget provides little cheer for scientists. Scant
on detail, the Bush plan seems to trim research at NSF by about
1% and at NASA by somewhat more. But DOE's Office of Science,
appears to bear the brunt of the bad news. DOE spending would
drop $0.7 billion or 3.5%, but DOE would take on $0.6 billion in
new spending for fossil fuels, home weatherization and defense
programs, leaving Science, Energy Supply and Waste Management to
absorb the $1.3 billion shortfall. If the cut is prorated,
Science drops almost 13%. Such a result might resurrect the
specter of lab closures or halt DOE construction projects,
including SNS, a top priority that's on time and on budget.
4. HOME ALONE.
The president still has no Science Advisor, and
there is no sign that he will have one soon. But word is that he
has selected Richard Russell to be chief of staff for the Office
of Science and Technology Policy. As part of the Transition
Team, Russell successfully urged Bush to zero out NIST's Advanced
Technology Program. He now wants NIST to move its Boulder, CO
laboratory to Gaithersburg, MD to fill the empty ATP building.