Friday, May 22, 2009
WN made a mistake last week: The Kepler Space Telescope was not sent to the L2 point as we said. The two European space telescopes, Herschel and Planck, are there and the James Webb Space Telescope
will go there when it's launched in 2013. I jumped to the conclusion that Kepler would go there too, but Kepler is part of the NASA Discovery Program of low-cost, focused science missions, and its
launch vehicle was not capable of reaching L2. Assigned to look for Earth-sized exoplanets, Kepler is in a solar drift-away orbit like the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Last week, even as I was screwing up the story about the new telescopes, Science magazine was perpetuating the rocket-fuel-on-the-Moon fantasy. I don't know where it got started, but in March of 1998,
Alan Binder, the chief scientist on the lunar prospector mission, exulted that, "for the first time, we know that when we go to another planetary body, we can fuel up." It seems that water, or ice, had
been detected in lunar soil at the bottom of craters near the poles. The water was not detectable 18 months later. NASA is now sending two missions to the Moon to look again. Science magazine said last
week that, "the lure of a resource easily convertible into to a high-energy fuel of oxygen and hydrogen has driven the decades long and often exasperating search for lunar ice." It's not nearly as
exasperating as it will be in the unlikely event that they do find water and try to turn it into rocket fuel. If our planet is indeed covered with rocket fuel to a depth of miles, why is there an
While I was trying to understand how Science magazine could have missed a turn in the road, a friend at the BBC called my attention to an April 30 article in the business section of the New York Times.
To reduce the emission of carbon dioxide from power plants, there are plans to sequester it deep underground. You have to pay to extract it and then pay again to get rid of it. However, a company
called Carbon Sciences has an audacious plan: Recycle the carbon by turning it into liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The author experiences a brief attack of self-doubt, "how much energy would it take to
recombine carbon with hydrogen to produce a fuel that could then substitute for gasoline." But his self-doubts seem to be swept away when the company assures him they have a secret biocatalyst that
will combine the hydrogen in water with the carbon in carbon dioxide without the usual large expenditure of energy. That's the same claim that inventor Sam Leach made almost 40 years ago when he
scammed investors out of millions with an automobile that ran on water.
The abrupt decision of Chancellor Faymann to terminate Austrias 50-year membership in the European particle-physics lab, just months before the LHC is expected to turn out its first results, was
reversed just as abruptly this week after scientists warned they would become second-class citizens in international science.