Friday, January 29, 2010
The very name given the Mars rover implies vigor and energy. But
telerobots, like those who build them, suffer decline with age. Sent to
Mars in 2004 on a two-month assignment, in rover-years Spirit is now 210
years old. Its been limping most of that time,
http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN04/wn100804.html . My
wheels don't work like they used to
either, but Spirit is now hopelessly stuck in a sand trap. NASA has
abandoned hope of getting it out, and now plans to use Spirit as a
stationary observatory. It's like watching out the window of a nursing home.
As this week's Nature points out, the mantra for the rovers was to find the
water; that would lead them to life. Unfortunately, water has been hard to
find. Methane of course is not an unambiguous indicator of life. It can be
produced geologically. In any case, methane found in the atmosphere gives
no indication of where it came from.
We reported last fall that a British company, ATSC, sold Iraq security
forces 1500 fraudulent bomb detectors for $85 million
http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN09/wn110609.html . The
head of the company has now been
arrested on suspicion of fraud. As WN pointed out, the device is simply a
telescoping antenna mounted on a swivel held by pistol grip. A slight
movement of the handle will cause the antenna to swivel to its lowest
point. It works like a dousing rod pointing anywhere the operator wishes.
Law enforcement officers love them because it gives them an excuse to
search anyone who looks suspicious. A scientific device that no one
understands serves as protection against the charge of profiling.
I usually count the number of times that the word "science" comes up in the
State of the Union address. Some presidents avoid mentioning it at all, and
others mention it only in connection with some wildly impractical scheme
they have been sold like Star Wars or the hydrogen car. President Obama
used the word "science" several times but there were no new plans.
This is question was not asked in some rock music rag talking about "the
summer of love," but in the Personal Journal section of the Wall Street
Journal, the stuffy newspaper that doesn't use photographsand is read only
by the well-to-do and overweight. But if you haven't been reading the Wall
Street Journal, it's is a different kind of paper now. It's readable.