Friday, 2 September 1988
THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE LOSES ITS PLACE IN LINE -- AGAIN.
We warned nearly a year ago (WN 23 Oct 87)
that a growing queue
of high-priority military launches threatens to monopolize the
Space Shuttle when it again becomes operational. This week NASA
announced that the scheduled launch of the Space Telescope would
be pushed into 1990 to accommodate urgent military missions. The
Magellan mission to Venus and the Galileo mission to Jupiter are
still scheduled in 1989 because of launch window constraints, but
don't count on it. It costs about $15M per month to warehouse
the space telescope. The cost to science is incalculable.
. THE FIRST SIX ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS CREATED BY NSF
1985 have been evaluated after 3 years. It was decided to renew
support to four of the centers for an additional 5 years. The
six initial ERC awards were selected from 142 proposals, a
success rate of about 4.2%. Five more centers were created in
1986 and three in '87. The evaluation was based on progress by
the ERCs in meeting program goals, but a report by the General
Accounting Office complains that this does not provide a sound
basis for evaluating the ERC program itself, since it does not
compare ERCs to other approaches. According to the GAO, nearly
half of the industry sponsors of the initial six centers do not
plan to continue their participation. The sponsors reported that
their interaction involved little direct research collaboration.
3. EQUITY IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF FEDERAL R&D FUNDS
in a recent report from the Congressional Research Service. On a
per capita basis, R&D support to universities and colleges ranges
from a high of $115 in Maryland to $5 in West Virginia. The
Maryland figure is skewed by including the Johns Hopkins Applied
Physics Laboratory, but even after correcting for such anomalies,
the spread is about a factor of ten. This disparity is often
cited by Congress to justify pork-barrel funding of science. The
report attributes the inequity to a peer review system in which
excellence takes precedence over any other criteria. Proponents
of the present system argue that the Nation can afford only the
best science. Critics contend that locating scientific research
in a backward area would help correct problems of regional growth
and prosperity. The report notes that NSF's organic act includes
the provision that one objective of the Foundation shall be "to
avoid undue concentration," but no one has yet defined "undue."
4. LOUIS W. ALVAREZ DIED YESTERDAY AT 77.
awarded the 1968 Nobel prize in physics for the invention of the
hydrogen bubble chamber, spent most of his life at the University
of California, Berkeley. He served as President of the American
Physical Society in 1969. At the time of his death he was still
passionately arguing for his theory of mass extinction of species
from an extraterrestrial impact 65 million years ago. One of the
world's most inventive scientists, he was at heart an adventurer.