Friday, August 27, 2004
1. SAVING HUBBLE: ROBOTS JUST GET BETTER, HUMANS NEVER CHANGE.
There's growing optimism at NASA about sending a robot to repair Hubble. The big problem may be finding the money, with early cost estimates at more than $1B. In other words, a robot repair mission to Hubble might cost as much as a manned shuttle flight.
2. SPACE STATION: WILL U.S. ASTRONAUTS HAVE TO FLY TOURIST-CLASS?
The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 makes it illegal to pay Russia to take US astronauts to the ISS. Astronauts have been getting free Soyuz rides since the shuttle grounding, but that deal ends in 2006. After that, Russia says they need the seats for paying passengers (WN 26 Apr 02) . I called Ada Parvenu, who handles billionaire relations for NASA. "We're being shut out of the ISS," I shouted, "after investing $35B." "Calm down" she soothed, "it's actually a terrific deal. It cost $500M to fly a shuttle to the ISS. Russia takes tourists there in a Soyuz for $20M. So we'll call astronauts 'tourists'." I was yelling now, "the law won't let us pay Russia for tourists either." "We've thought about that," she said calmly, "we're recruiting billionaires to be astronauts. They'll be able to pay for their own tickets."
3. MISSILE DEFENSE: CANADA OPENS TALKS ON NORTH-AMERICAN DEFENSE.
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin wants to talk about possible participation in Bush's non-existent ballistic missile defense system. The Liberal caucus is sharply split over any Canadian participation in the program, with critics saying the program is unproven, expensive and likely to start a weapons race in space. It has already prompted an escalation of language, with outspoken Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish warning of a "coalition of idiots."
4. CLIMATE CHANGE: IS THE CLIMATE CHANGING IN THE WHITE HOUSE?
The U.S. Climate Change Program submitted its biannual report to Congress this week. Two years ago, the President described the report as "something put out by the bureaucracy." This time, it came with a cover letter signed by the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Commerce, and the President's Science Advisor. It reinforces what most scientists said all along: emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades. Responding to claims that increased CO2 makes crops grow faster, several important invasive weeds were found that grew even faster. Although the President finally seems to acknowledge that emissions are a problem, he's not proposing to do anything.
Paul Gresser, What's New 2004 Summer Intern, contributed to this week's issue, but now resumes graduate studies at U. of Maryland.