23 December 1999 Washington, DC
1. SECRETS: JAILED SCIENTIST SUES FEDERAL AGENCIES.
Fired 10 months ago from his job at Los Alamos, Wen Ho Lee was indicted
last week for mishandling classified material and is being held
(WN 17 Dec 99).
On Monday, Lee filed suit against
the FBI and the Department of Energy, charging that they engaged
in a campaign of news leaks that wrongfully portrayed him as a
spy and violated federal privacy statutes. According to the New
York Times, Attorney General Janet Reno told the Senate Judiciary
Committee in June that the DOE and FBI inquiry into the possible
theft of data on the W-88 had focused too narrowly on Lee. "The
elimination of other logical suspects having the same access and
opportunity did not occur," she testified.
2. HUBBLE TROUBLE: NASA TRIMS THE REPAIR JOB TO RUN THE SCORE UP.
The Saturday launch deadline that NASA set to make sure the
shuttle was back before Y2K came and went. NASA decided to go
ahead and launch on Sunday anyway, but cut the mission from ten
days to eight. That meant eliminating a fourth space walk to
complete preventive maintenance. What was the urgency? Shuttle
flights are costly; why not wait a couple of weeks and do the
complete job in January? After all, the launch had already been
postponed nine times. However, this is only the third launch in
1999--the smallest number since 1988 when NASA was just resuming
flights after Challenger. Not only does the low launch rate
raise questions about the viability of the space station
(WN 17 Dec 99),
it raises the launch cost, as determined by the annual
budget of the shuttle program divided by the number of launches.
By that rule, each launch in 1999 cost at least $1.2B.
3. IGNITION PROBLEMS: IN CASE OF EMBARRASSMENT, REORGANIZE.
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson is reported to believe that a
$300M cost overrun in the $1.2B National Ignition Facility was
deliberately hidden from him and from upper management at the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It is expected that he
will announce a complete restructuring of the project once a full
report on the overruns becomes available in mid-January. The
overruns surfaced shortly before it was learned that the project
director, Mike Campbell, had misrepresented himself as a PhD. He
resigned. The troubles with NIF may translate into troubles for
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, since NIF had been sold as an
essential element of stockpile stewardship.
4. MOON BEAMS: YES, BUT WAS IT A RECORD?
There was much talk
this week about Wednesday's full moon and whether it would be the
brightest in 133 years. Sigh. It was a splendid moon. But the
apparent brightness of the moon to the uncalibrated eye has more
to do with the heart than with perigees and solstices. Who has
not whispered to the one beside them on an enchanted evening that
the moon tonight is the brightest that ever shone?