Friday, 8 November 96 Washington, DC
1. POLITICS '97: STATUS QUO WINS REELECTION IN A LANDSLIDE!
The Commerce and Education Departments may feel a little less heat: education has emerged as a
popular issue with the public, while several foes of the Commerce Department will not be back.
Bob Walker (R-Pa) retired, while Larry Pressler (R-SD), who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee,
and freshman Dick Chrysler (R-MI), who proposed eliminating the US Weather Service because
"I get my weather from the weather channel," were not reelected. Alas, no relief in sight for DOE.
Freshman axe-wielder Sam Brownback (R-KA), who led the House effort to eliminate four
Departments, has moved up to the Senate, where he can be expected to continue his assault.
That should add strength to the Domenici initiative to restructure the Energy Department as a
non-cabinet agency (WN 30 Aug 96).
At least DOE can focus
on something besides explaining the Secretary's travel budget -- Hazel O'Leary ha
s announced her
intention to leave government. Speculation about a replacement centers on Rep
. Bill Richardson (D-NM), a
seven-term member of the House whose district includes Los Alamos. A big turnover of
agency heads is
generally expected at the start of a second term.
2. MARS: EARTH LAUNCHES AN ALL-OUT ATTACK ON THE RED PLANET.
Yesterday, the Mars Global Surveyor began a 10-month voyage to Mars. The economy-model surveyor
will arrive on 12 Sep 97 and spend a couple of Earth years mapping of the Martian surface with a
resolution of 2 to 3 meters. Russia is scheduled to launch its sophisticated Mars '96 mission on 16 Nov.
It will deploy two small landers and two surface-penetrating robots -- the first probes to land on Mars
in 20 years. Two weeks later, the US will send the Mars Pathfinder on its way carrying a small
rover. None of these missions were designed to search for life, but prospects for life brightened when
NASA research in Greenland pushed the age of life on Earth back another 400-million years.
That means life emerged on Earth when conditions were really crummy. NASA hopes to launch a
sample return mission in about 2005. The big problem is NASA's shrinking budget -- a huge
chunk of which is committed to the space station. The only science on the station will be
microgravity research, which no one much cares about.
3. THE FACE: NASA PROMISES NOT TO TURN OFF THE SURVEYOR CAMERA.
After NASA's Mars Observer fell silent in 1993, demonstrators outside the Jet Propulsion Lab charged
that it was a government cover-up of evidence that extraterrestrials have built gigantic icons on Mars.
Now it's rumored that NASA plans to turn off the Surveyor camera when it's pointed at the Cydonia
region of Mars, where a 20-year old Viking photo shows a feature about a mile across that looks like--gasp!--Michael Jackson! NASA has boldly announced that it will release any images as soon as
they are received. But if NASA learns that extraterrestrials worship Michael Jackson as a deity,
WN believes it should be suppressed.