Friday, July 23, 2004
1. SPACE: JAMES VAN ALLEN CALLS FOR A DEBATE ON HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT.
"Risk is high, cost is enormous, science is insignificant. Does anyone have a good rationale for sending humans into space?" Van Allen asks in Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2004. For those who may not remember, or who were not yet born, the first science mission in space was Sputnik II, launched 3 Nov 1957. It carried a dog named Laika and a Geiger counter. Three months later, the US launched Explorer I. There was no dog, but Van Allen's Geiger counter was connected to a recorder. Data was therefore obtained over a complete orbit, revealing the Van Allen radiation belts: charged particles trapped by Earth's magnetic field. It was the first major discovery in the exploration of space. The USSR was ahead in putting dogs into space, but barely four months into the space age the US had taken the lead in space science. It was never relinquished. Now, our first great space scientist asks, "Is human spaceflight obsolete?"
2. FEAR: COMMITTEE ON THE PRESENT DANGER WAGES "WAR OF THE MINDS"
Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) have announced the rebirth of the Committee on the Present Danger, a hawkish group last assembled in 1976 to push for increased arms spending to counter the Soviet Union. These former Cold Warriors include James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Cooper and representatives of Boeing, the Heritage Foundation, and other groups of concerned citizens. They are united by their fear of "Islamo-fascism." What sort of war do they have in mind? Jeff Freeman, the CPD's director of communications, told What's New that it would be a "war of ideology," and a "war over minds." Whose minds, exactly? Freeman says that our military capabilities are sufficient, but that Americans lack the necessary "patience" and "conviction." A mind is a terrible thing to wage war on.
3. LOS ALAMOS: HAVE THEY CHECKED SANDY BERGER'S SOCKS?
It's been a tough week for lab director Pete Nanos. Weapons research has been shut down since Friday, as the search continues for two hard drives that vanished from the weapons division (WN 16 Jul 04). Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called in the FBI and is threatening firings and criminal prosecutions. Nanos, whose predecessor was fired for a similar episode (WN 3 Jan 03), blamed a "culture of arrogance" for the incident. He suspended nineteen scientists and threatened to fire them if the data doesn't show up behind the copy machine. But the problem isn't arrogance, and the solution isn't mass firing. The success and credibility of science is built on a "culture of openness." Sloppy handling of secrets can't be tolerated, but lab management must devise a procedure that protects secrets without stifling creativity.
Paul Gresser contributed to this week's issue of What's New.