Friday, 14 Feb 97 Washington, DC
1. BIPARTISAN SCIENCE CAUCUS? WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES.
First there was the Gramm bill calling for doubling non-defense basic research
in ten years (24 Jan 97). Then the President said
lots of nice things about science, even if his budget did look sort of flat.
The latest promising development came this week with the formation of a new bipartisan
Senate S&T Caucus, led by Bill Frist (R-TN). Frist, who gives his
profession as heart-transplant surgeon, was joined by three heavyweights,
Pete Domenici (R-NM), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Jay Rockefeller (R-WV).
The hearing was notable for the near unanimity on increasing the investment in
basic research. At a press briefing at the AAAS meeting in Seattle, White House
Science Advisor John Gibbons attributed the change to scientists' increased
political awareness. When asked about the flat trend in the President's budget,
he reminded reporters of downward projections a year ago.
2. THE GOLDIN YEARS: NASA HEAD IS POPULAR WHERE IT COUNTS.
The NASA Administrator is very popular on the Hill and in the White House,
Gibbons told reporters yesterday, because of efficiencies he introduced.
Dan Goldin was also popular with biologists when he spoke at the American
Society of Cell Biology in December. "We are not going to build
engineering temples in search of science," he declared. If he meant the
space station, he may be right.
3. SPACE STATION: CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL.
Last week, the Russian Prime Minister gave Vice President Al Gore assurances
that $100M would be made available by the end of the month to begin
construction of its part of the station -- a long-delayed service module which
is already more than 8 months behind schedule
(WN 27 Dec 96). The service module contains the
propulsion system needed to duck debris and to keep the station in orbit.
If Russia doesn't come through, NASA officials believe the Naval Research
Laboratory can cobble together a system using spy satellite maneuvering
units to provide the propulsion, but it would eventually have to be replaced
by a refuelable service module. Nor would it provide temporary crew quarters
during construction. Another option is to reduce the role of Russia to that of a
NASA contractor and just pay them to get the thing built. All that's keeping
Mir in orbit are the payments of other nations to let their astronauts camp out
in orbit. All these solutions cost the US money, and no one is saying where it
might come from. Of course, the best solution doesn't cost anything.
4. BIMILLENIUM: THE PSYCHICS MAY BE RIGHT -- DISASTER IN 2000.
They've been predicting huge disruptions when we reach the year 2000. The GAO
says the same thing -- there will be the deafening sound of computers crashing.
The problem stems from early efforts to save computer memory by using two digit
date fields in software. GAO says it will cost $2.3B and three years to fix.