Friday, 21 September 1990 Washington, DC
1. "STAR WARS" BROUGHT DOWN TO EARTH IN HOUSE AUTHORIZATION BILL.
Ignoring the threat of a veto, the House approved a $283B defense
authorization bill that includes only $2.3B for SDI--less than
half the President's request--as WN predicted last month
(WN 3 Aug 90).
In fact, it is doubtful if even the authors of the SDI
amendment really want to cut it that far; the real target is
about $3B. An extra $0.7B was cut to offset the $3.7B approved
by the Senate last month; the House action anticipates splitting
the difference in conference next week. A decreasing emphasis on
strategic weapons is an obvious response to the changing military
threat faced by the US, but the case for SDI was not helped by a
series of disastrous tests of the "brilliant pebbles" concept.
2. WHILE THEY WERE AT IT, THE HOUSE VOTED TO TERMINATE THE B-2
bomber program after the 15 "stealth" bombers that have already
been ordered are delivered. Supporters had sought to portray the
B-2 as just the thing for a gulf war, but few in Congress could
seriously contemplate risking a weapon in combat whose cost has
escalated to nearly a billion dollars a copy. It is not at all
clear how the House action will be compromised with the Senate,
which voted in August to fund the B-2 at the full $4.5B request--
enough to continue procurement of 75 bombers. No one will talk
publicly, but the shaky future of the B-2 probably spells the end
of the $40B MILSTAR satellite system, which was justified in part
to ensure communications with the B-2 force. The Senate called
for terminating MILSTAR (which might be more appropriately named
"MILLSTONE"), but House sources will acknowledge only that the
"black" program is "an item for conference" with the Senate.
3. THE PLANETARY SOCIETY WAFFLED ON SPACE STATION FREEDOM
meeting held behind closed doors this week. The Society, which
exists to promote the exploration of the solar system, boasts an
advisory board that includes such celebrities as Paul Newman and
Steven Spielberg, as well as serious scientists. It is hardly
surprising that such a disparate group would hesitate to publicly
question human space flight. But in the off-the-record sessions,
space insiders questioned whether beleaguered Freedom
(WN 14 Sep 90) is the best stepping
stone to the planets--meanwhile, the
stepping stones to Freedom, the shuttle team, still can't get off
the pad vertically (WN 7 Sep 90).
Columbia struck out Monday,
when the launch was scrubbed for the third time. NASA announced
yesterday that leaky Columbia was no longer in the schedule. The
CRAF-Cassini program, the center piece of robotic exploration in
the next decade, was endorsed by the Planetary Society. But
CRAF, which includes an asteroid flyby and comet rendezvous, was
eliminated in the Senate last week--and that is only a taste of
what can be expected if Freedom really starts sucking up funds.
4. THE DECISION TO AWARD THE MAGNET LABORATORY TO FLORIDA STATE
(WN 7 Sep 90) has been reaffirmed
by the National Science Board.