Friday, 1 March 96 Washington, DC
1. SPACE THING: THERE'S THIS BIG SPHERE WITH A 12-MILE FLAGELLUM!
The release of a White House report on the growing hazard from
orbiting debris just happened to coincide with the ignominious
release of a $440M Italian research satellite trailing a 12-mile
tether. According to the report, there are 7,000 pieces of debris
large enough to track (uh, make that 7,001), and the number keeps
growing as junk collides with junk creating smaller pieces; about
3,000 pieces are spent rocket stages and dead satellites. Some
of those satellites are dead because they collided with existing
debris. Numerous pits from pieces too small to track are found
on the shuttle after every mission, raising serious concern about
the many space walks required to construct the space station.
2. HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON THE "PRESS REPORT."
The study, "Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology,"
released last November (WN 1 Dec 95), was requested by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In written testimony, APS President Robert Schrieffer and
President-Elect D. Allan Bromley generally praised the NRC study,
but took strong exception to a proposal to switch to a science
and technology budget (S&T), rather than a R&D budget as is
presently the case. Although a S&T budget would more accurately
reflect investment in innovation for comparison with other
countries, it would make it difficult to reallocate funds from
such things as weapons testing to civilian research, a process
that has gone on since the end of the Cold War. They also
objected to a recommendation favoring academic institutions over
national labs, arguing that the two are in fact complementary.
3. WITH TWO WEEKS TO GO, FY 96 APPROPRIATIONS REMAIN UNFINISHED.
Seeming more dispirited than rested, the GOP-led Congress came
back Monday, after a three-week break, facing a 15 March deadline
to keep the government running (WN 26 Jan 96). Bob Livingston (R-LA), chair of the House
appropriations Committee, predicted passage of a single "omnibus"
bill to cover the four unfinished appropriations bills: Commerce,
Labor, Health and VA/HUD/IA. He expects the funding levels to be
about the same as in the current continuing resolution. Congress
must then get moving on the FY 97 appropriations; the process
will be compressed by fall elections.
4. TROUBLE AT THE NAE -- LAWYERS SAID TO BE LICKING THEIR CHOPS!
Seven months ago, Harold Liebowitz was elected to a six-year term
as President of the National Academy of Engineering; that also
makes him vice-chair of the National Research Council. But the
National Academy of Sciences Council, which oversees the NRC,
unanimously voted to censure Liebowitz, strip his power and cut
off the NRC portion of his salary. The NAE Council responded by
expressing its own concern about Liebowitz's capacity to perform
his duties. But there is no provision in NAE by-laws to remove a
President -- and Liebowitz apparently does not plan to go gently.