Friday, January 23, 2004
1. SPACE PRIORITIES: GUESS WHAT PROGRAM NASA DECIDED TO ABANDON?
President Bush directed NASA to reallocate $11B of its resources over the next
five years to a program to send humans back to the moon and on to Mars. It
should be a no-brainer. They've got this humongous, leaky, space turkey called
the International Space Station. ISS was supposed to keep eight astronauts
busy doing bogus science experiments, like finding out if the scent of a rose
is different when it blooms in zero gravity (WN
7 Feb 03). With the ISS crew down to two, they're too busy trying to stay
alive to do even bogus science. But the President says we have a commitment to
finish building the ISS before we can scrap it. So instead, Sean O'Keefe announced
the termination of maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope, thus dooming it
to an early death.
2. REPROGRAMMING ISS: LONG-TERM EFFECT OF SPACE TRAVEL ON HUMANS.
There isn't much you can do with a space station. The President says it will become a space-medicine laboratory to prepare for the return of humans to the moon and on to Mars. Hmmm, that's exactly what his father wanted to use the station for (WN
12 Jul 91). The ISS is inside Earth's magnetosphere, so it can't study space-radiation effects, which is the real show stopper. That leaves osteoporosis. Let's see: it will take at least 12 years to complete our commitment to the ISS. Calcium loss is monitored by a daily urine analysis, typically requiring about 30ml. For a full 8 person crew that adds up to more than one thousand liters. Awesome, we're talking $10M just to launch the water into orbit that will then be processed into urine. We have already been analyzing urine samples collected in space for over 30 years.
3. NUCLEAR WEAPONS: LOTS OF "BEWARE-OF-DOG" SIGNS - BUT FEW DOGS.
"The first liar," they say in Texas, "hasn't got a chance." All around the world, petty tyrants keep their hands under the table and try to look like they're holding a weapon. Sig Hecker, the former head of Los Alamos Lab who visited North Korea's nuclear facilities (WN
16 Jan 04), briefed a Senate Committee Wednesday. He is unconvinced that they have the bomb. Curiously, North Korea denies it has a uranium enrichment program as the U.S. charges. Instead, they claim to have extracted plutonium from spent fuel rods, but nothing is known of its isotopic composition, if indeed it is plutonium. A Pu bomb is far more difficult to build than a U bomb and there is nothing to indicate they can do it. But even as North Korea brandishes weapons it doesn't have, Libya, which had only recently declared it had a nuclear program, has now announced its program is being dismantled in an effort to have sanctions lifted from the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who toured the Libyan sites, says there wasn't much to dismantle. Libya, it now appears, was nowhere near large-scale enrichment.