Friday, 6 March 1992 Washington, DC
1. CAN BRILLIANT PEBBLES DEFEND THE WORLD AGAINST DUMB
Now that the threat of self-annihilation seems to be diminishing,
whoever it is that decides what we should worry about has settled
on asteroids. After all, an asteroid impact 65 million years ago
spelled curtains for the dinosaurs--and we could be next! Would
you be surprised to learn that Lowell Wood and Edward Teller have
a solution? Perhaps not against the sort of 10Km whopper that
bagged tyrannosaurus, but those only hit about every 100 million
years anyway. What's needed, according to Wood and teller, is a
defense against 10m objects. One of these little suckers slams
into Earth every year or so with an energy of 10 kilotons of TNT.
Why don't you hear about them? Because they don't make it through
the atmosphere. So why spend huge sums to defend against them?
What else can you do with brilliant pebbles? Next we will need a
program to protect the Earth from falling brilliant pebbles.
2. A NASA WORKSHOP ON ASTEROIDS RECOMMENDS A "SPACEGUARD
to identify asteroids in orbits that threaten the
Earth. Several new Earth-crossing asteroids are discovered each
month by optical telescopes, but at this rate it would take
centuries to complete a survey of the larger objects. Considering
the impact frequency, that may be about the right level of
urgency, but Congress called on NASA to hold a workshop on
detection. At the January meeting, the astronomers thought a few
dedicated telescopes would suffice. NASA scientists favored a
more high-tech approach using large planetary radars to refine
the orbits. The workshop did not deal with the question of what
to do if one is spotted coming in.
3. HOUSE BUDGET RESOLUTION WOULD TAKE $15B FROM DEFENSE
The final vote will come next week on a budget resolution--but it
is still not clear whether money stripped from defense will go to
deficit reduction or domestic programs. A month ago it seemed a
foregone conclusion that the "fire wall" prohibiting transfers of
funds between defense and domestic programs would have to come
down, but in the current political climate, no one wants their
fingerprints on the wrecking ball. The House doesn't really want
to take a full $15B from the DOD; it is an attempt to anticipate
the Senate, which is always more generous to defense. So now the
Senate budget resolution will seek to offset the big House cut.
4."PORKBUSTER II" BILL WOULD RESCIND FY 92 FUNDS FOR 652
totaling more than $1.5B. The projects, which were not awarded on
a competitive basis, include such classic academic boondoggles as
the program to tap energy from the aurora borealis. The sponsors
introduced similar legislation last year, but it never even camp
up for a vote and Porkbusters II almost certainly will meet the
same fate. And of course, an attempt by Senate Republicans to
pass a line-item veto amendment failed again. The line-item veto
is often touted as strong medicine against pork, but if there was
any real chance it would pass, it would never be introduced!