7 December 2001
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: TEST SUCCEEDS ON A NICE DAY.
Originally set for Saturday
(WN 30 Nov 01),
the seventh of 18 planned tests was
delayed until the weather improved on Monday. The test design was identical to
the successful test conducted in July 2000. That is, the target carried a homing
beacon and deployed a single decoy that didn't resemble a real warhead. The
Pentagon promises to make the tests more realistic in coming months. Meanwhile,
the US and Russia met the START I deadline for reducing nuclear arsenals; some 4,000
real warheads aimed at us were destroyed.
2. SPACE TRAVEL: THERE ARE A FEW HEALTH PROBLEMS TO DEAL WITH.
NASA is making plans for a human mission to Mars in 2014 that would take 30 months.
At the request of NASA, a committee of the Institute of Health has examined the health
issues surrounding long-duration space missions outside Earth's magnetosphere
("Safe Passage," National Academy Press, Washington, DC 2001, $80). The greatest risk
is radiation exposure. There are no data on effects of the high-Z, high-energy particles
that flood space and no suitable experimental facilities on Earth. Nor is there any way
to predict solar outbursts with much higher radiation levels. Loss of bone density in zero
gravity is so severe and NASA's "countermeasures" so marginally effective, that a mission to
Mars with humans is unlikely to be undertaken unless a biological solution is found. Most
surprising was the importance the report gives to the risk of psychological and social stress.
3. SPACE ENTERTAINMENT: ANOTHER HIGH-TECH BUNGEE JUMPER SIGNS ON.
For his $20M Dennis Tito got stomach problems, but that didn't seem to discourage 28-year-old
Mark Shuttleworth, a South-African multi-millionaire, from paying the Russian space agency full
fare to be the second tourist to visit the ISS. Meanwhile, MirCorp is launching "Ancient
Astronaut," a 13-part television contestant show that will originate in such exotic places as
4. DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS: THERE ARE LOTS OF THEM, BUT DO THEY WORK?
There is a widespread belief that the FDA wouldn't allow all that over-the-counter stuff to
be sold if it weren't safe, but the '94 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act exempted
suppliers of these "natural" substances from the need to demonstrate safety or efficacy, as
long as no claim is made that it actually cures you of anything. They can claim it enhances
the immune system, for example, but not that it prevents colds. The media seemed to go along
with the herbal fad, and the DSHEA sparked a huge growth in supplement sales. But when Stephen
Strauss was chosen to head the alternative medicine program at NIH
(WN 16 Nov 01),
insisting that this stuff be scientifically tested to see if it works. Studies found that some
popular supplements may even be dangerous. Now a move is getting underway to repeal the DSHEA.