Friday, 8 Sept 95 Washington, DC
1. SCIENTIFIC LEADERS RALLY IN SUPPORT OF THE NIST LABORATORIES.
A Senate subcommittee yesterday approved a substitute Commerce Department Termination Act that would transfer "standard-setting functions" to a new Office of Patents, Trademarks and Standards and abolish NIST. The deliberately vague Roth bill replaces the Abraham bill that sought to move standards to NSF and privatize NIST (WN 21 Jul 95). Concern over the fate of NIST laboratories has aroused an unprecedented response by scientific leaders. Twenty-five recipients of the Physics Nobel Prize have signed a letter, initiated by Norman Ramsey, urging Congress to preserve NIST labs as a "national treasure." A similar letter, initiated by APS president Kumar Patel, has been signed by presidents of 18 major scientific societies. Both letters will be released at a press conference in Washington on Monday, September 11, at 10 AM.
2. DOE MAY BE CASTING A COVETOUS EYE ON SOME OF ITS OWN PROGRAMS.
With strong bi-partisan support, Basic Energy Sciences, General Science and the $100M Facilities Initiative have done pretty well in the DOE appropriations bills that passed the House and Senate before the August recess. But according to stories circulating on Capitol Hill, some DOE administrators would like to spread the wealth, moving funds to other programs that did not fare so well. However, a key House staffer warns that any attempt by the agency to shift funds will result in a war between DOE and Congress.
3. STAR WARS: SENATE APPROVES A COMPROMISE MISSILE DEFENSE PLAN (WN 25 Aug 95)
. On its first day following the August break, the Senate approved a $243B Pentagon budget that includes $671M for national missile defense, $300M more than the President asked for, but drops the commitment for deployment by 2003. The White House has agreed that it will not oppose the compromise version.
4. THE PART OF THE "APOLLO 13" STORY THE MOVIE VERSION LEFT OUT
. Like other Apollo missions before it, Apollo 13 was carrying an RTG (Radioactive Themoelectric Generator) to power experiments that were to be left on the Moon. The canister was strapped to the leg of the LEM -- which became the heat shield during the improvised reentry. The RTG was fueled with about 18 kilograms of Pu-238, a non-fissile, but toxic, radioactive isotope with a 90-year half-life; it supplied 60 watts of electric power. There was serious concern that the RTG might burn up during reentry, showering radioactive contamination on Earth. Six years earlier, a smaller RTG on a navigation satellite burned up over the Indian Ocean, releasing about 17,000 Curies. But the hardened Apollo 13 RTG ended up intact at the bottom of the Philippine Trench. A garbled account in The Nation says "the plutonium will be hotly radioactive for 2000 years," apparently confusing it with Pu-239. The Nation quotes an Apollo 13 producer as saying omission of the plutonium story from the movie was "an artistic decision."
THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY (Note: Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.)