Friday, March 7, 2003
INTERNSHIP IN THE APS WASHINGTON OFFICE.
We're looking for a physics graduate student or advanced undergraduate
with genius IQ and great writing skills. Some writing experience desired. Two
writing samples, resume and 3 letters of recommendation to: email@example.com by
April 18, 2003.
1. COLUMBIA: THE INVESTIGATION BOARD HAS BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT.
Of the eleven initial members, ten were federal employees
(WN 14 Feb 03), raising concerns about independence. Is it important?
After Challenger, Feynman said he asked NASA managers to estimate the
failure risk. They put it at roughly 1 in 100,000, but NASA engineers
put it closer to 1 in 100. Sheila Widnall of MIT was added for more independence
(WN 21 Feb 03), and on Wednesday, Adm. Harold Gehman, the chair, asked
NASA chief Sean O'Keefe to add three more academics: Doug Osheroff of
Stanford, professor of physics, Nobel prize in 1996; Sally Ride, professor
of space science at UCSD, a physicist and former astronaut who was on
the Challenger board; and John Logsdon, political scientist, director
of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
2. SATELLITE REPAIRS: WN OVERLOOKED THE SOLAR MAXIMUM MISSION.
We incorrectly stated last week that Hubble was the only
science satellite repaired in orbit (WN 28 Feb
03). Our readers lost
no time in setting us straight. Launched in 1980, SMM's pointing mechanism
failed the first year. NASA saw a chance to showcase a daring rescue
using the newly operational shuttle. An astronaut wearing a thruster
backpack would maneuver to SMM, snag it with a special tool, and tow
it back to the shuttle for repair. Alas, the neutral buoyancy training
pool simulated zero gravity nicely, but not zero viscosity, and in the
rescue attempt the astronaut only managed to start SMM spinning wildly.
Months of planning and training had to be scrapped. SMM was grabbed by
the Canadian robot arm. A mission meant to showcase unique human abilities
in space, instead proved the value of robots controlled by humans.
3. VIRTUAL ASTRONAUT: PIONEER 10 SENDS ITS LAST SIGNAL TO EARTH.
Its nuclear furnace has grown cold. Launched in 1972 on
a two-year mission, the tiny 570-pound spacecraft was 30 years and 7.6
billion miles from home when it sent its last faint transmission on 22
Jan 2003. The first spacecraft to venture beyond Mars, Pioneer 10 negotiated
the unknown hazard of the asteroid belt to send back the first close-up
images of Jupiter. It charted the currents of the solar wind to the very
edge of interstellar space, while suffering the usual infirmities of
old age: its mechanical limbs arthritic; its senses dimmed by the battering
of radiation and micrometeoroids; circuits shut down to conserve energy.
It's last assignment was to find the heliopause, where the solar wind is offset by the galactic wind, but in April 1997 it was passed by a younger, faster Voyager spacecraft. It was recalled to active duty by NASA's
Deep Space Network as part a communications study in support of a future
interstellar probe. No matter, Pioneer 10 was expendable. Requiescat