Friday, June 29, 2007
WN was in Orwellian peril from the start. My wife asked how long I
planned to keep writing this thing. "Not long," I said, "if I tell it like
I see it, they'll end it in a year." After I became director of the new
Washington Office, the APS Council asked me to make my weekly report
public - but not advertise it. Some wanted Big Brother to approve each
issue before it went out. If so, someone else would have to write it.
Much later I agreed to add a disclaimer - not everyone liked that either.
After more than 1,200 issues and growth from 112 subscribers to 15,617,
APS finally ended WN. My department chair, however, asked that I continue
writing WN, but with the University of Maryland as sponsor. He made it my
principal teaching assignment.
Radiation is a major obstacle to human trips to Mars. The ESA reminds us
of a no less serious hazard: human nature. There were serious disputes
between cosmonauts on Mir after months in close confinement. ESA is now
seeking volunteers for a "simulated human trip to Mars." A crew of six
aged 25-50, in good health with “high motivation” will be sealed for 17
months in an isolation tank here on Earth. In contact only by radio with
a realistic delay, they will do stuff a real crew would do (Try to stay
alive?), but without microgravity or radiation. Thousands applied.
Tuesday, on Al Jazeera–English TV, I discussed a Mars mission with
officials from ESA and the Royal Astronomical Society. Why use humans
rather than robots? Humans would have faster reactions, they said.
Reactions to what, I asked?
Edited by Nina Byers and Gary Williams, this is an overdue tribute to a
group of wonderful physicists. The review in the June Physics Today,
however, was disappointing. The reviewer was not a physicist, but a
biologist at a small college who happened to be a female, presumably
chosen to get a feminist perspective. The physics speaks for itself.
Physics Today should supplement this lightweight review with a feature
article putting the physics in proper context.
I am truly grateful to the APS for allowing me to speak my mind, not just
in WN, but to the media and in congressional testimony. In a university
like Maryland it's expected, but it's unusual in Washington. For those
who hope for a gentler WN, I refer you to H.L. Mencken's epitaph: "As he
grew older, he grew worse."