Friday, February 28, 2003
1. NASA: THE SHUTTLE AND THE HUBBLE-REPAIR MYTH.
For the first time, the need for a human presence in space
is being questioned openly on Capitol Hill. But at a House Science Committee
hearing yesterday, Sean O'Keefe invoked the Hubble repairs as an example of man doing what robot could not. It's a NASA myth; Hubble was designed to be serviced. It was supposed to be like calling AAA for a jump start; NASA promised a shuttle launch every week. But the repair missions cost more than Hubble, and no other science satellite has ever been repaired in orbit. Moreover, Hubble had to conform to a NASA decree that everything that went into space had to be launched with the shuttle. This confined Hubble to a far from optimum low-Earth orbit that took it in and out of the Earth's shadow and exposed it to the rain of space garbage from past missions. Moreover, Hubble's dimensions had to conform to the shuttle's
cargo bay, and its launch was delayed for three years by the Challenger
accident. Ironically, the Challenger accident finally forced NASA to
drop its shuttle-only launch policy. Hubble has gone on to achieve greatness,
not because of the shuttle and the man-in-space program, but in spite
2. MISSILE DEFENSE: PENTAGON SEEKS WAIVER FROM REQUIRED TESTING.
In April 2000, the APS Council stated: "The United States should not make a deployment decision relative to the planned National Missile Defense system unless that system is shown - through analysis and intercept tests - to be effective against the types of offensive countermeasures that an attacker could reasonably be expected to deploy with its long-range missiles." In fact, a law designed to prevent deployment of weapon systems that don't work was passed in 1983 after Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative. Now the Bush administration is proposing to exempt the Pentagon's controversial missile defense from testing. The request is in the 2004 budget. I called my friend Puff Panegyric at the Missile Defense Agency. "You've got to admit the law makes sense," I said. "Maybe it did in 1983," Puff sneered, "but North Korea has made the world a more dangerous place. We don't have the luxury of waiting until things work. There are leaders of some countries who would like nothing better than to start a war." "I
see your point Puff."
3. CURVE BALL: DEATH OF ORIOLES PITCHER LINKED TO EPHEDRA.
The real culprit, however, was the 1994 Dietary Supplement
and Health Education Act, which exempts "natural" supplements from proof
of safety or efficacy (WN 17 Nov 00).
Under the DSHEA, supplements have become a $17B industry. Ephedra, or
ma huang, which mimics adrenaline,
is used in weight loss aids. But despite thousands of reports of adverse
reactions, the FDA has struggled for years without success to get the
substance banned (WN 7 Sep 01).