Friday, May 7, 2004
1. WORLD SCIENCE: U.S. LEAD IS SHRINKING – THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS.
A front page story in the NY Times on Monday, using data provided by the APS, proclaimed that the "U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences." It was already evident from the 2004 Science and Engineering Indicators, issued by the National Science Board in January, that America’s lead in basic science is narrowing. "The rest of the world is catching up," NSF analyst John Jankowski told the New York Times. If he means that science in the rest of the world is making rapid progress, it’s good news; we trained many of their scientists on the theory that in a world of vast disparities, no one is safe. It would be even better news if our response to foreign competition would be to increase funding for basic science. Basic research is the engine of progress, and it draws top scientists to the U.S. from around the world, including by our count, 20 of the Americans awarded the Nobel Prize in physics since WWII, 28 in physiology and medicine, and another 18 in chemistry. Unfortunately, there is little reason to suppose our response will be to increase basic research. We continue to squander our resources on high-profile, low-return science such as the Space Station, and the Moon, Mars and Beyond initiative.
2. MOON, MARS AND BEYOND: “SPACE EXPLORATION ALLIANCE” LOVES IT..
NASA may be planning to redirect its efforts toward exploration of space, as WN reported last week (WN 30 Apr 04), but according to the Washington Post on Saturday, the vision in Congress is cloudy and the space initiative is stalled. Congress wants a plan and there is no plan. In hopes of getting some sort of cost estimate we went to a noon press conference today at the National Press Club. A new organization called the Space Exploration Alliance had announced they would “aggressively refute the false impression that Moon, Mars and Beyond is too expensive for this country to take on.” A spokesman declared that “Never before in the history of the United States have 13 organizations banded together to support a space initiative.” I saw no reason to doubt that figure, but there was still no cost estimate. I counted a total of three reporters in the room. The other 30 or so wore Space Exploration Alliance name tags, and were apparently there for the free lunch. One thing was clear, if travelers to Mars are the same size as the industry reps at the press conference, they’re gonna need a big launch vehicle.
3. PLAN B: NASA HAS FAILED TO PROVIDE CONGRESS WITH ANY DETAILS.
O’Keefe’s plan might be described as, “once we build it, we’ll know what it costs.” It’s not like the President is backing up O’Keefe. President Bush has not mentioned Moon/Mars since his 14 January speech to the American people. Perhaps he decided it had all been a mistake and took a morning-after pill.