Friday, 10 December 1999 Washington, DC
1. MARS: IT'S STILL OURS TO CONQUER.
The latest setback in the
exploration of Mars needs to be put in perspective. There were
no lives lost and the Polar Lander cost a fraction of a single
shuttle mission. We don't even know if there was a problem with
the spacecraft. This is exploration after all--it's not going
around in circles in low-Earth orbit. "Faster, cheaper, better,"
however, does not mean budgets can be slashed every year without
increasing risk. With continued overruns on the ravenous space
station, cuts fall disproportionately on the science programs.
2. NASA: THE OTHER Y2K PROBLEM.
Space Shuttle managers announced
yesterday that the much delayed Hubble repair mission, which was
set for launch tomorrow, will be put off until Dec 16 to allow
repairs of a dented fuel line. It can't be delayed much further
without running into New Year's Day. To avoid any possible Y2K
glitches, NASA would put off the flight until January. Meanwhile,
Space Station construction is still on hold while electrical
problems are corrected on the rest of the fleet. To add to the
space station problems, solar activity will reach the peak of the
11-year cycle in 2000. A National Academy of Sciences report,
released yesterday, calls for limiting space walks.
3. BUDGET: PRESIDENT CALLS FOR A BALANCED RESEARCH PORTFOLIO.
Speaking to business leaders on economic growth last Friday,
President Clinton stressed the interdependence of the research
enterprise in calling for across-the-board support for research:
"Advances in health care, for example, are often dependent on
breakthroughs in other disciplines--such as the physics of
medical imaging technologies." He was echoing a message that was
first delivered jointly by 23 scientific societies on March 4,
(WN 5 Mar 99).
The message seems to be getting through.
4. EMF: THE SOLUTION TO ELECTROPHOBIA MAY BE TO MOVE TO THE UK.
Massive studies of exposure to residential magnetic fields in the
(WN 4 Jul 97)
(WN 30 Mar 99)
uncover any trace of a link to childhood leukemia. Now, an even
larger study in the United Kingdom has been released. No link
was found between EMF exposure and ANY form of childhood cancer.
Will this finally bring the 20-year witch hunt to an end? We
should be so lucky. Those who seem determined to find a problem
insist the result is not relevant here. Power is supplied at 220
volts in Europe, rather than 110, so exposure of British children
to EMF is only half that of their North American counterparts.
Nor does the study shed any light on why Brits drink warm beer.
5. FELLOWSHIPS: STUDENTS INTERESTED IN COMMUNICATING SCIENCE.
The APS is again sponsoring ten-week summer fellowships in mass
media organizations. Graduate students or advanced undergrads,