9 November 2001
1. SECRECY: BUSH ASSUMES CONTROL OF PRESIDENTIAL RECORDS.
Presidential Records Act of 1978 called for release of most
records 12 years after a president has left office. However,
President Bush has issued an executive order that reinterprets
the Act to allow a sitting president to block the release of
records of a former president, even if the former president wants
them released. Dismayed by the order, some historians suggest
that at this critical time the order may be intended to bury past
"dirty tricks" employed by the U.S. The Reagan Administration
issued a virtually identical order in the 1980s to support claims
of privilege by Richard Nixon, but it was rejected by the courts.
This new order should meet a similar fate. The right to know is
easily relinquished in times of crisis but difficult to regain.
2. NUCLEAR MATERIALS: DOE SAYS "SUBSTANTIAL" AMOUNTS ARE MISSING.
An audit, begun long before Sept 11, was unable to account for a
lot of the plutonium and uranium loaned to government agencies,
universities, private companies, and hospitals. Sloppy
bookkeeping, rather than deliberate diversion, isx the most
likely explanation, but the war on terrorism has intensified
concerns about control of nuclear materials, and the Department
of Energy is not taking the missing material lightly.
3. ISS: FINGER POINTING HAS BEGUN IN THE SPACE STATION DEBACLE.
The findings of the International Space Station Management and
Cost Evaluation Task Force seems to have come as a shock to ISS
(WN 2 Nov 01).
It was left to Sherwood Boehlert (R-
NY), chair of the Science Committee, to explain why we are doing
this: "The nation has already pumped almost $30B into the space
station. We need to salvage that investment." Great argument!
Sink another $30B into it and the justification will be twice as
strong. Meanwhile, Dave Weldon (R-FL), whose district includes
Kennedy Space Center, accused President Bush of "killing space
exploration" by not making more funds available for ISS. He may
be confusing exploration with human presence, but as near as I
can tell, even with humans we have exhaustively explored low-
Earth orbit. The APS explained 10 years ago that "scientific
justification is lacking for a permanently manned space station
in earth orbit."
4. SPACE EXPLORATION: SOLAR-WIND PARTICLE COLLECTION IN TROUBLE.
Scientists had planned for the Genesis space probe to spend 26
months collecting atoms from the solar wind for return to Earth.
That is real science. It would be NASA's first sample-return
mission since Apollo. The Soviets, of course, returned moon
samples as recently as 1976. Alas, a malfunctioning battery
shield may force a revision of the Genesis mission. The good
news is that the three year mission cost a mere $259M.