Friday, 3 May 96 Washington, DC
1. HELIUM: HOUSE VOTES TO ABANDON THE HELIUM CONSERVATION PROGRAM
It might as well be laughing gas -- the Helium Privatization Act passed the House on Tuesday by 411-10. It would require the government to get out of the helium extraction business and sell off the reserve by 2015. In November, the APS Council called for measures to "conserve and enhance the nation's helium reserves" (WN 8 Dec 95). The APS takes no position on privatization, but the supply of helium is finite and irreplaceable. It's extracted from natural gas, and whatever is not extracted is lost forever as the gas is burned. Unless it's stored, exhaustion of helium is therefore determined by the rate of natural gas consumption. The bill now goes to the Senate. The best hope is that the Senate, preoccupied with election year stuff, won't get to it.
2. NASA: GOLDIN DECLINES TO BACK DOWN IN THE FACE OF CRITICISM.
Outraged by plans for massive staff cuts at NASA headquarters, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), promised a fight (WN 19 Apr 96). Last week, she managed to get language inserted into the report accompanying the omnibus appropriations bill, directing NASA to suspend the layoffs. Although report language doesn't have the force of law, most agency heads meekly comply because they see it as a threat to cut their budget. Not Dan Goldin. Although he admits it was a serious mistake not to consult with Mikulski, he warned employees to assume layoffs will take place on schedule.
3. MORE NASA: GOLDIN DECLINES INCREASE IN SPACE SCIENCE BUDGET.
The proposal to add $158M to space science originated in the Science Committee where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over who loves basic research the most. Republicans faced a dilemma: slashing the hated environmental Mission to Planet Earth would put them below the Democratic proposal. So they moved the money to space science. Goldin says space science doesn't need the money and the cuts would devastate mission to Planet Earth.
4. NIST: HOUSE TECHNOLOGY SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING IS A LOVE FEST.
Last year NIST was threatened with termination. Yesterday, when Kumar Patel, APS Past President, testified that "Industry won't do what NIST does," not a voice was raised in disagreement.
5. SPERM FOUND TO BE ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN NEW YORK!
Reports of declining sperm counts among American males led to predictions of an end to the human race, particularly after the release of "Our Stolen Future," a book that linked the supposed decline to man made chemicals in the environment that mimic female hormones. The book boasts a forward by Vice President Gore, who calls it a sequel to Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." But more careful studies show no hint of a decline over the past 20 years. There are curious regional differences; for unknown reasons, sperm counts are 50% higher in New York than LA.