Friday, May 21, 2004
1. SPACE RACE: HOW FAR IS IT TO THE MOON -- MEASURED IN YUAN?
China launched taikonaut Yang Liwei into Earth orbit on 15 Oct 03, becoming only the third nation to join that exclusive club (WN 17 Oct 03). In the jingoism that followed there was talk of space stations, Moon bases and trips to Mars. Even in the U.S., President Bush rose to the challenge (WN 16 Jan 04) announcing a return to the Moon and on to Mars. But now, Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China’s space program, reveals that China’s manned space program has already cost 18 billion yuan ($2.18B). The Moon is just too many yuan away; China now plans to build a space station of their own in 15 years. According to a Reuters story out of Beijing, China had expected an invitation to join the International Space Station. We have a golden opportunity to make amends for having blackballed China on the ISS, while at the same time removing the greatest single obstacle to U.S. space exploration: just give the ISS to China. Let the ISS paralyze China’s space program.
2. HOMEOPATHY: DEMONSTRATORS IN BELGIUM RESORT TO MASS SUICIDE.
A Special Report in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer looks into the ultimate protest by a group of skeptics. They objected to a decision by the major health insurance companies in Belgium to begin covering the costs of homeopathy in response to popular demand. Depressed by the willingness of the insurance companies to encourage quackery, the 23 skeptics resigned themselves to committing mass suicide by drinking a cocktail of lethal poisons including arsenic, snake venom and deadly nightshade. To the horror of the homeopathists, they even increased the potency in true homeopathic fashion by preparing a 30C solution of the cocktail. That means the cocktail was diluted one part per hundred and shaken, which was then repeated sequentially, 30 times. All newspapers and TV stations were invited to watch the death agonies of the 23 deranged suicides, who included a number of prominent citizens and professors of medicine, "and a few normal people armed only with common sense." The media coverage was excellent, but the suicide attempt was a failure.
3. SHUTTLE: RETURN-TO-FLIGHT IS RUNNING A LITTLE BEHIND SCHEDULE.
NASA originally hoped to fly the shuttle again by March ‘04, and to conduct as many as four missions in 2004. Now they hope to fly by March ‘05. They don’t yet have a system to inspect and repair the shuttle’s heat protection system. It’s like trying to see if your bald spot is growing. As a last resort they may have to rely on spacewalks for inspection, or resupply the ISS using robotic shuttle missions. The robots always win in the end.