Friday, September 20, 2002
1. INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: "HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM."
If you don't get the answer you want, the theory goes, just appoint another
panel. It's not working. The latest look at the ISS as a place to do scientific
research is by a National Research Council panel. The Task Group on Research
on the International Space Station found just what all the other panels
found: 1) The ISS is not shaping up to be a world-class research facility,
2) the scientific community has shown little interest in using the space
station to conduct research, and 3) NASA's primary goal for the use of
the Space Station has never been made clear. This may sound shocking for
a research facility that's expected to eat up more than $100B, but it
shouldn't be a surprise. As long ago as 1990, the Advisory Committee on
the Future of the US Space Program, headed by Norm Augustine, called for
drastic rethinking of the Space Station: "We do not believe the space
station can be justified on the basis of the science it can perform" (WN
14 Dec 90). Almost the same words were echoed in a statement adopted
by the Council of the American Physical Society (WN
25 Jan 91). The biologists made the same point (WN
17 Jul 98). But it was France's Space Minister, who said it all: "It
is expensive, it no longer makes people dream, and is has no scientific
value." He said he would not be surprised to see it scrapped (WN
26 Jun 98).
2. WEAPONS DETECTION: MORE COMPLICATED THAN WE (OR ABC) IMAGINED.
Last week's WN told the story of ABC News "smuggling" a mock bomb
into the country. The "bomb" contained 15 pounds of depleted
uranium (DU). WN scoffed at suggestions that that this was a
"perfect mock-up." WN pointed out that U-235 in highly enriched
uranium (HEU)is more radioactive than U-238, which is strictly
true, but more expert readers gently suggested there was more to
the story. Gamma rays from 235 are of much lower energy, and
most are absorbed by the uranium itself. So DU is more easily
detected than HEU? Probably not. Most HEU is contaminated with
U-232, a highly radioactive isotope with a daughter that emits an
easily detected gamma. So HEU is more easily detected than DU?
Not necessarily. The U-232 contamination comes from the use of
reprocessed uranium. South African and Pakistani HEU is produced
from virgin uranium and should contain no U-232. Our thanks to
Steve Fetter for educating us on the realities of life in 2002.
3. WHERE NOW? SLAKEY COMPLETES THE ASCENT OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS.
Physicist Francis Slakey, our colleague in the Washington Office
of the APS, has returned from his 12 Aug 02 summit of Carstenz
Pyramid, Irian Jaya, Indonesia, the highest peak in Oceania. He
has now climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents,
one of only 70 climbers in history to have done so. In that
unstable region, the obstacles of the climb paled before the
hazards of bribing his way through bands of armed civilians.