Friday, 3 April 1992 Washington, DC
1. SUMMARIES OF THE ASTEROID DETECTION AND INTERCEPTION
were released this week by NASA, after reports of
the bizarre Los Alamos interception meeting (WN 13 Mar 92) appeared in the press. The
sanitized summary of the Los Alamos meeting concludes that if a
large object heads for Earth, we should spot it decades before it
gets here, leaving plenty of time to prepare a defense. In the
meantime, the summary calls for robotic missions to characterize
near-Earth objects. Ironically, after years of planning, NASA
chose this year to kill the Comet Rendezvous and Asteroid Flyby
mission. CRAF was sacrificed to fund Space Station Freedom.
2. NOT TO WORRY! SDI IS PLANNING ITS OWN ASTEROID FLYBY
A 1994 visit to Geographos will be piggybacked on a Lunar mapping
mission, the objective of which is to provide long-duration tests
of lightweight sensor technology planned for brilliant pebbles.
The fortuitous passage of Geographos offers SDI an opportunity to
demonstrate an ability to acquire, track and flyby a cold target.
3. PENTAGON DROPS INVESTIGATION OF PATRIOT INTERCEPTOR
The Patriot became a symbol of American technological prowess in
the Gulf War, creating a surge of enthusiasm for ground-based
ballistic missile defenses. The Patriot initially was claimed to
have intercepted 96% of the Scud missiles that were engaged. Then
the revisions began coming in. Ground damage reports in Israel
actually went up after the Patriots arrived, apparently as a
result of Patriots hitting the ground. The success rate finally
hit zero in a careful analysis by MIT physicist Ted Postol. After
Postol went on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour interpreting video
tapes of supposed interceptions, the Pentagon announced Postol
was being investigated for revealing secret information. It's a
new twist; the usual claim is that critics don't have the facts.
4. BIG PROBLEM FOR BIG SCIENCE: THE "FIRE WALL" REMAINS IN
On Tuesday, the House voted to retain the ban on
transfers from defense to domestic spending programs. Even if
Congress had voted to remove the wall, President Bush promised a
veto, and 35 Repub-lican Senators vowed to sustain him--one more
than needed. The fire wall was meant to force any peace dividend
to be applied to deficit reduction; Republicans and conservative
Democrats seem determined to keep it that way. But skeptics
argue that the wall won't result in savings; the money will just
be spent on unneeded defense programs. Big programs such as
space station and SSC are thought to be most vulnerable, but
small science may suffer too.
5. SHOULD NSF REDIRECT FUNDS TO UNDERGRADUATE SCIENCE
which now gets 7% of NSF's budget? The President
of tiny Grinnell College took issue with a panel of research
university heads, all of whom argued against cutting research.
"We all march to a different drummer," she said at a House
hearing, "but you guys call the tune. To improve teaching, put
more money into it."