Friday, 1 Sept 95 Washington, DC
1. AAAS DELIVERS AN INTERIM REPORT ON FY 96 R&D APPROPRIATIONS.
Al Teich, who directed the study for the AAAS, emphasized that it
is a half-time report. So far, basic research has been spared any
major cuts and NIH is actually up 6%, but no major spending bills
are complete -- and any nails that stick out usually get hammered
down in the final budget. The President has already threatened
to veto eight of the thirteen appropriations bills if funding is
not restored to such areas as education and environment. As the
October "train wreck" (WN 4 Aug 95) approaches, Congress will be
looking at programs that have not been hard hit. How concerned is
the science community? In the last week of August, Washington is
practically a ghost town. But while others were frolicking on the
beach, almost 400 science reps turned out for the AAAS program.
2. AT THIS POINT, THE BIGGEST CUT IN SCIENCE IS IN NASA--$716M.
Most of it will be taken from Mission to Planet Earth. The space
station, so far, seems to emerge unscathed. A portion of Rep.
Walker's July 28 floor speech, defending the space station, may
help to explain why and provide a definition of "scientific."
"The space station is a unique laboratory," he explained, "you
cannot replicate on Earth a microgravity environment where long
duration study can be done. The work in that laboratory is
scientific, meaning that we are pursuing the new knowledge needed
for our economic future. The work cannot be totally quantified at
this point because some of it, perhaps most of it, is unthinkable
until the new environment and new experience has been created."
3. POTATO-BASED LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM TESTED. FRENCH FRIES AGAIN?
NASA announced the successful 418-day test of a plant-based life
support system. According to a NASA press release, potato plants
supplied enough oxygen to sustain one crew member on "deep space
or lunar missions" and provide 55% of the person's caloric needs.
The announcement failed to indicate how many potato plants were
needed to achieve this level of support, but in a separate study,
carbon dioxide removal and oxygen production for one person took
30,000 wheat plants. The most intriguing aspect of the report is
the mention of long-duration lunar missions. In the dark, plants
consume oxygen and evolve carbon dioxide--and lunar potatoes will
have to learn to live with nights that are 28 Earth-days long.
4. SENATOR CONNIE MACK (D-FL) DEFENDS DECISION TO ELIMINATE OTA.
Responding to criticism, the chairman of the Legislative Branch
Appropriations Subcommittee, who led the move to abolish OTA,
explained that "the explosion of technology has been accompanied
by an explosion of information about technology." He suggested
that OTA's efforts are being duplicated elsewhere, including
private industry. The tobacco industry would no doubt be happy
to fill Congress in on the addictive properties of nicotine, and
Northrop could assess the effectiveness of the stealth bomber.
THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY (Note: Opinions are the author's
and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.)