Friday, March 11, 2005
1. HANS BETHE, 1907-2005: WHO BECAME THE CONSCIENCE OF SCIENCE.
"I always wanted to find out how the world is made, what it is made of, what holds it together, what makes it operate the way it does," he once explained. He was confident that the answers can only be found by science, and at 98 he was still finding them.
2. TEMPLETON PRIZE: CHARLES TOWNES CITED FOR SPIRITUAL PROGRESS.
In his famous paper, The Convergence of Science and Religion, Townes wrote that "Understanding the order in the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart." They are a universe apart. Steven Weinberg, another great Noble-laureate physicist, wrote "The more the universe seem comprehensible, the more it seems pointless." Nevertheless, by our count Townes is the sixth physicist to win the Templeton, which in dollars is larger than the Noble Prize. Others awarded the Templeton include Charles Colson of Watergate fame, and the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham.
3. NASA: TERMINATION IS PLANNED FOR HEALTHY BUT AGING MISSIONS.
No, it's not another hospital euthanasia scandal. This time it's active NASA science missions being turned off to free money for the President's goofy Vision for Space Exploration. According to a story in Nature this week, managers of seven missions that are "past their prime" (man, this is cold) have been told there is no money to keep operating past October. That includes two Voyagers looking for the heliopause, where true interstellar space begins. Pioneer 10 started the search, but it was passed by the younger, faster Voyagers 8 years ago. (Isn't that always the way?) The nuclear furnace of Pioneer 10 finally grew cold two years ago (WN 07 Mar 03). Is this just the old "Washington Monument ploy," where they count on Congress kicking in a little extra from school lunches or something? What's next?
4. THE VISION: THERE'S GOING TO BE "STRUCTURAL UNEMPLOYMENT."
Although NASA is the only science agency with an increase in the asking budget (WN 4 Mar 05), the Washington Post reported this morning that NASA is planning a 15.3 percent workforce cut by the summer of 2006. That's about 2,680 jobs, saving the agency about $268M. The money is needed to refocus on the Moon- Mars exploration initiative. Development of a "Crew Exploration Vehicle" to succeed the space shuttle is the major new effort. NASA shows every sign of repeating all the mistakes of the past. At a time when the agency desperately needs bold leadership, it's on autopilot. There are not even fresh rumors of who might replace O'Keefe as Administrator. The betting is that it will be an astronaut, which would firmly lock NASA into the past.