Friday, April 3, 2009
Dear Mr. President: Last month you said the space agency is drifting and
needs a mission "appropriate for the twenty-first century." The new
Administrator, you said, should think about "the next great adventures and
discoveries under the NASA banner." I know you've been busy with G20
stuff and haven't had time to name this visionary, so in an effort to help
What's New did the thinking for whoever it will be: 1) Astronauts are a
relic of the 1960's "space race" and a major obstacle to the continued
exploration of space. Therefore the ISS, which serves no useful purpose
anyway, should be given to China and the crew sent home on the Soyuz.
Maybe astronauts could be awarded medals for courage in fighting the Cold
War. 2) Global-warming critics insist climate change is the result of
solar variations and is not anthropogenic. Therefore, NASA should move
with due haste to locate DSCOVR at the unique Lagrange-1 vantage point to
resolve this question. 3) The greatest quest in science is to find life
to which we are not related. Therefore, NASA's robotic exploration of the
solar system should be expanded to include the ocean moons of Jupiter.
There should also be a ban on human visits to any planet that might harbor
life; we're crawling with bugs. 4) The great discovery of this century is
the existence of planets around other stars. The bad news is that we
can't get to an exoplanet. The good news is they can't get here. Therefore
we should employ the huge advances in optical technology to develop a new
generation of advanced space telescopes capable of examining exoplanets
for evidence of life.
The $3.5 trillion spending bill is good news for science. Major
differences between House and Senate versions must be resolved by a
Conference Committee, but it should not significantly affect science.
So spoke Don McLeroy, the dentist who chairs The Texas Board of Education
which met this week to set new science standards. The issue that
dominated the meeting was creationism. The experts lost. The tactic was to
insert ambiguities that could be construed as calling for creationism to
be taught. Creationists will use that to lobby textbook publishers. The
publishers just want to sell books and Texas is a big market. McLeroy
says he believes the sudden appearance of fossils supports the creationist
view. What fossils? Texas used to float on a fossil ocean of oil. It has
disappeared a lot faster than it formed.
China says it plans to become the leading producer of hybrid and all
electric vehicles. That's not good news for General Motors which aims to
dig its way out of a hole by going more heavily into electric vehicles
such as the plug-in Volt. The weak link in everybody's plan is the
They're sure trying to make people think they are. They do this every so
often to wring concessions out of the West. There is a call in Japan to
shoot the missile down if it passes over their territory, but North Korea
says they'll retaliate. The one thing we can be sure of is that the US
won't shoot it down with interceptor missiles from silos in Alaska.