Friday, June 30, 2006
The mission is to see if the modified shuttle works. Everybody
watches their fuel tanks these days, but NASA watches closer.
The plan is for the crew to take refuge on the ISS if they find
any damage when they get there. But what about the shuttle? It
cost a few billion bucks, never mind what's it's worth. No
problem! They rigged a 28-foot cable so flight controllers on
the ground can throw the switches. I called Ann Thropojinic, a
veteran astronaut we have relied on in the past, to explain these
things. "Does this mean the only function of the crew is to
throw a few switches?" I asked. "Not at all," she replied, "the
crew is there to do weightless tricks for the cameras."
Human papillomavirus (HPV)is the most common sexually transmitted
disease. By protecting against four strains, Gardisil prevents
most cervical cancer. The vaccine is expensive, however, and
the disease is most prevalent among the poor. Still, vaccinating
girls from 11-18 would cost less than the flight of Discovery.
The recommendation was unanimous, but the vote to make Plan B
available over the counter was also overwhelming. Why would
anyone object? "Because," a spokesperson for Focus on the Family
snarled, "You don't catch it, you have to go out and get it."
The Iraq War continues unabated, the deficit soars, the ice caps
melt, and the Senate voted on whether a constitutional amendment
to ban flag burning should go to the States for ratification. It
was the fourth time the Senate has rejected such an initiative
since the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning is
protected free speech. It failed by one vote. As a threat to
the nation, flag burning may be as dangerous as gay marriage. An
amendment to ban gay marriage had failed earlier.
The moratorium has been in effect for 25 years to protect shore
areas; this is apparently how long it takes for people to forget
the environmental cost of the 1969 leaks off Santa Barbara.
Compared to imports, the amount of oil involved is trivial.
The only title I have ever aspired to is Professor of Physics.
That title has not changed, nor will What's New, nor anything
else I can think of. As you know, What's New is now supported by
the University of Maryland Department of Physics, which has made
it my major teaching assignment; the APS allows me use the office
in the National Press Building as a base to write it with help
from a wonderful staff; and I continue to get up every morning to
battle the Philistines, secure in the knowledge that when I get
it wrong, WN readers will straighten me out.