Friday, 6 December 96 Washington, DC
1. DIGITAL AGENDA: SCIENTISTS BE DAMNED -- FULL SPEED AHEAD.
Negotiation on a draft database treaty (WN 22 Nov 96) began on Monday
in Geneva. In a letter to Secretary of Commerce Kantor, APS President
Robert Schrieffer requested that negotiations be deferred to allow a
public discussion of the treaty's impact on science. The response came
from Bruce Lehman, Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, who is
heading the US negotiating team. Lehman, a former lobbyist for the
copyright industry, brushed off the concerns of the scientific community.
"It is important," he wrote, "that the international treaty process not be
derailed or delayed. To do so would frustrate the Nation's interests."
But critics characterize the draft treaty as a flagrant giveaway to the
copyright industry and are dismayed by Lehman's attempt to use an
international treaty to make an end run on Congress.
2. ITER: NEW TURBULENCE MODEL IGNITES A HEATED
A news article in today's issue of Science exposes a
controversy that has swirled around a computer model presented at the
Denver meeting of the APS Plasma Physics Division last month. The
model predicts the humongous International Thermonuclear Experimental
Reactor won't come close to ignition, due to turbulence. However, heads
of major fusion research organizations issued a statement yesterday
questioning the validity of the Science article.
3. SPACE STATION: IS THIS ANOTHER "REPHASING OF
You will recall that in September NASA announced that
it would cover a $500M overrun on space station construction by leaving
off the science for a few years (WN 20 Sep 96). Who would notice?
NASA calls this "rephasing of utilization." Meanwhile, the Russian built
"service module," a key component in the construction of the station, fell
8 months behind schedule. The solution? Put off human occupation for
awhile. There wouldn't be much for humans to do anyway with no
science on board. Alas, work on the service module has now come to a
complete halt due to the Russian fiscal crisis. Contingency plans are
4. MARS: PATHFINDER TAKES SHORTCUT TO ARRIVE ON THE 4TH
A group at UC San Diego is reportedly about to release a
study that debunks NASA's claim that evidence of life was found in a
Mars meteorite (WN 9 Aug 96). Meanwhile, Pathfinder, carrying a tiny
rover, is scheduled to reach Mars orbit on Independence Day, two
months before Global Surveyor, which was launched a month ago (WN
8 Nov 96). Both seem to be working fine; robots don't need air locks.
Closer to home, space shuttle Columbia will set a new endurance record
after its return was postponed due to weather. Flagpole sitting must be
back in fashion. The President awarded the Congressional Space Medal
this week to Shannon Lucid, who spent an extra 45 days on board Mir
when her taxi failed to show up, setting an American record of 188 days
in low-Earth orbit.