Friday, 20 September 96 Washington, DC
1. SPACE: WHITE HOUSE ISSUES REVISED NATIONAL SPACE POLICY.
The National Science and Technology Council released the new policy
yesterday. Calls by the Star Trek lobby for human missions to search
for life on Mars reached hysterical levels in recent weeks (see below),
but the new policy lists no plans for human travel beyond Earth orbit.
It does commit NASA to the Space Station, but only "to support future
decisions on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further
human exploration activities." That is a huge shift in policy. It is
no longer "how do we do it?" but "should we do it?" The change reflects
what has been learned in three decades about robotics, the harsh realities
of the space environment and the dreadful economics of human space flight.
Many scientists doubt that we need to spend $94B on a space station to
answer the "should we" question. The funding priorities for space will
be the topic of a tentative December "summit" meeting between the
administration and key members of Congress, called at the urging of Sen.
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
2. STATION: COST OVERRUNS LEAD TO "REPHASING OF UTILIZATION."
To prevent overruns, Congress imposed a $2.1B annual spending cap on the station. So what is NASA to do when a contractor has this teensy $500M overrun? No problem. You know all this science research stuff that they're building the station to carry? You just leave it out for a few years. NASA calls this "rephasing of utilization." Andrew Lawler, writing in Science magazine, quotes the program director: "There won't be a research program without a space station." The other way around is apparently acceptable.
3. DOE: THE PRESIDENT IS EXPECTED TO SIGN AN FY 97 APPROPRIATION.
Physicists have been contacting their elected representatives and physics fared well in the final DOE spending bill: the B-factory at SLAC, the main-injector upgrade at Fermi and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven are all fully funded. Nuclear Physics and Basic Energy Sciences will get almost everything the President requested. Fusion is 10% below the request; the report accompanying the bill suggests that DOE should save some of this by cutting "program direction." Sadly, the educational programs, which placed faculty and students at the DOE laboratories and provided hundreds of undergrad internships, were zeroed out.
4. NSF: THE PRESIDENT IS NOT LIKELY TO GET A BILL TO SIGN.
Even though House/Senate conferees agreed on a VA/HUD/IA spending bill that increases NSF research by 5.1%, it is likely that it won't get congressional approval. Senators Kennedy and Harkin are said to be calling for an amendment to add $3 B to education; that may be enough to get VA/HUD/IA added to a continuing resolution.
NEXT WEEK IN WHAT'S NEW! MISSION TO MARS: Search for intelligent life at Newsweek comes up empty.