Friday, August 11, 2006
Almost nothing was known about conditions beyond the ionosphere
when the US launched Explorer I on 31 Jan 58. The Cold War was
at its peak, and the Soviets seemed to own space. Sputnik I,
launched 4 Oct 57, carried no instruments. Sputnik II, a month
later, could only send back Geiger counter readings taken when it
was in sight of the ground station. In June, however, at a
conference in the USSR, James Van Allen, a physics professor at
the University of Iowa, announced that Explorer I had discovered
the first of the two "Van Allen radiation belts." Soviet space
scientists were crushed; the "space age" was not a year old and
already the U.S. had taken the lead in science. Two years ago I
visited Prof Van Allen in his office at the U. Iowa. At 89 he
was down to a 7-day work week. He showed me an op-ed he was
sending to the NY Times in which he described human space flight
as "obsolete" (WN 23 Jul 04) .
I don't believe they used it. Van Allen said using people to
explore space is "a terribly old fashioned idea."
The Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly the voice of
environmental extremism, commented today on NASA satellite
measurements that show melting of the Greenland ice sheet to be
more rapid than expected. On the same page was a story about
General Motors cutting production of big SUVs. It seems that
rising gas prices are causing sales to sag. An editorial by
Donald Kennedy in today's issue of the journal Science, says the
public is concerned about climate change and favors government
action. State and local governments are voluntarily assuming
what Kennedy refers to as a "neglected federal mandate." I say,
"stay the course." When the world runs out of fossil fuel the
greenhouse problem will begin to solve itself.
Whatever the problem, someone will sell you a magnet to fix it.
Gas prices brought out the usual magnets that attach to the fuel
lines to get the fuel molecules pointed right. Or you could walk
instead of driving, but you may need magnets in your shoes to
keep your feet from getting tired. When all else fails, turn to
wine, but you may want to give it a little polish by attaching a
magnet to the bottle neck (available from Bev Wizard, $30).
In my mail this week was "The First Open Letter about the Freedom
of Science" from somebody named G.O. Mueller in Germany. It went
to 290 "public figures" in Europe and the USA. Must be a lot of
G.O. Muellers in Germany. This one thinks the Special Theory of
Relativity is nonsense. He says 2896 publications agree with
him. He's probably right, I've been sent about that many over
the years. I would say the system is working just about right.