CCNet 54/2002 - 25 April 2002

"We're now taking a different view on risk. We have to protect the
bottom line."
--Marcel Burge, Swiss Re, 23 April 2002

"CONTOUR will provide the most detailed data yet on these ancient
building blocks of the solar system. By studying at least two comets, we'll
be able to assess their diversity and begin to clear up the many mysteries
of how comets evolve."
--Joseph Veverka, Cornell University, 23 April 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    Michael Paine <>

    The New York Times, 23 April 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    Daniel Fischer <>

    Jon Richfield

    Bob Kobres <>

    Andrew Yee <>


>From Ron Baalke <>

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Laurel, Maryland
For Immediate Release
April 23, 2002
Media Contact:
Michael Buckley
(240) 228-7536 or (443) 778-7536
CONTOUR Ships to the Cape

NASA Comet-Chasing Spacecraft on Track for July 1 Launch

All packed up and ready for its long-awaited trip, NASA's CONTOUR spacecraft
left home in Maryland today for Cape Canaveral, Fla., site of its scheduled
July 1 launch toward an unprecedented comet study.

Secured in an air-ride, climate-controlled shipping container, CONTOUR set
out from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and will reach Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station/Kennedy Space Center later this week. CONTOUR --
short for Comet Nucleus Tour -- had spent the past eight weeks being baked,
frozen, spun, shaken and probed in Goddard's test facilities, getting a dose
of the conditions it will face during launch and in space.

"Our spacecraft is ready and the team is anxious to start final preparations
for launch," says CONTOUR Project Manager Mary C. Chiu, of the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which designed and
built the compact 8-sided, 6-foot by 7-foot spacecraft.

After a predawn launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket, CONTOUR will
encounter two very different comets as they zoom through the inner solar
system. From as close as 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) away, the
spacecraft will snap the sharpest pictures yet of a comet's nucleus, map the
types of rock and ice on the surface and analyze the surrounding gas and
dust. CONTOUR's target comets include Encke in November 2003 and
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in June 2006, though the mission team can steer the
solar-powered probe toward a scientifically attractive "new" comet should
the opportunity arise.

"CONTOUR will provide the most detailed data yet on these ancient building
blocks of the solar system," says Dr. Joseph Veverka, the mission's
principal investigator from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "By studying at
least two comets, we'll be able to assess their diversity and begin to clear
up the many mysteries of how comets evolve."

CONTOUR is part of NASA's Discovery Program of lower-cost, highly focused
space science investigations. APL manages the mission for NASA and will
operate the spacecraft. Veverka leads a team of 18 co-investigators from
universities, industry and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe. For
more information on CONTOUR, visit


The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of the Johns Hopkins University,
meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of
science and technology. For more information, visit


>From Michael Paine <>

Dear Benny

Steve Ward brought this to my attention. I wonder if their "risk experts"
subscribe to CCNet?

Michael Paine

Reinsurers looking to worst as a result of Sept.11 attacks Costs of meteors
and tidal waves are being calculated.

By Philipp Goellner Of Bloomberg News

The Morning Call, April 23, 2002

ZURICH, Switzerland. Scientists working for reinsurance companies are trying
to figure out the chances of even worse catastrophes than the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. They're considering the possibility of a meteor falling
on a world capital or a tidal wave flooding the U.S. East Coast.

Swiss Reinsurance Co. and Munich Re are looking for future calamities that
could cost their companies billions of dollars in claims or bankrupt them.
Their risk experts monitor science journals and news reports and draw up
mathematical models to put a price tag on unforeseen tragedies.

A meteorite crashing into Earth could cause many times the estimated $58
billion in damage from the Sept.11 attacks, leveling an area the combined
size of London, Berlin and Moscow, and sending up a huge dust cloud capable
of chilling the global climate for decades, Munich Re said. In another
scenario, parts from old satellites and rocket stages slam into Los Angeles.

"Before Sept. 11, the public would have considered these threats too remote
to be taken seriously," said Ernst Rauch, a geophysicist who heads a team of
20 scientists, meteorologists and hydrologists in the global risk research
unit at Munich Re, the world's biggest reinsurer. "We would have  been
laughed at."

The purpose of the research isn't just to identify once-outlandish risks.
Insurers and reinsurers, which assume the risk of disaster for insurers, say
they need to review the wording of policies to exclude or limit coverage for
losses from meteors or other previously unimagined

"We're now taking a different view on risk," said Marcel Burge, head of risk
engineering services at Swiss Re of Zurich, the world's second-biggest
reinsurer. "We have to protect the bottom line."

Traditional worst-case loss scenarios didn't contemplate teams of terrorists
commandeering commercial jets and crashing them into buildings. The attacks
on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon killed more than 3,000
people. They were the insurance industry's largest-ever loss.

Because insurers didn't exclude terrorism-related costs as they do damage
caused by war, the Sept. 11 attacks led to claims from almost all lines of
insurance, including property, life, worker's compensation, business
interruption, accident and health, and aviation and space.

Swiss Re posted a loss of 200 million Swiss francs ($120 million) last year
after 2.95 billion francs in claims from the Sept. 11 attacks. Munich Re's
2001 profit fell 86 percent, partly because of $1.9 billion in attack

Lloyd's of London had a loss of 3.1 billion pounds ($4.51 billion) last year
after the terrorist attack left the three-centuries-old insurance market
with its biggest-ever bill from a disaster.

Reinsurers say they can't afford another Sept. 11.

Many have excluded terrorism-related losses while raising rates on other
lines. Swiss Re, Allianz AG, Zurich Financial Services AG, XL Capital Ltd.
and Hannover Re said earlier this month they are instead forming a joint
venture to offer property coverage against terrorist attacks on buildings.

Copyright © 2002, The Morning Call


>From The New York Times, 23 April 2002

A microphone in the Pacific Ocean near Wake Island recorded a 45-second,
low-frequency roar, too low to be heard by human ears. It was the sound of
nearly a cubic mile of sediment giving way along an ocean bottom slope 2,200
miles away off Papua New Guinea.

That recently examined recording is the latest evidence that an underwater
landslide, not an earthquake, churned up the 30-foot-high tsunami that
crashed onto coastal villages of Papua New Guinea on July 17, 1998, killing
more than 2,100 people.

Once thought rare, landslide-generated tsunamis have caught the attention of
geologists, who now look with concern at other continental shelves that
could collapse with equal disaster. Three-dimensional maps of the bottom of
Monterey Bay off California, for example, show several sections that have
given way - and others that have cracked and may collapse in the future.

What is not known is how often landslides occur and how many tumble fast
enough to induce tsunamis.

Small landslides - or ones that slip slowly - do not cause tsunamis.
Cataclysmic landslides, like the partial collapse of a midocean volcano,
generate giant waves that scour thousands of miles of coastline around an
entire ocean basin, but they occur very rarely, once every few hundred
thousand years.

But moderate-size underwater landslides like the one off Papua New Guinea
may pose an uneasily plausible risk in some places, occurring once every few
hundred years.

"It is a reasonably significant hazard," said Dr. Emile A. Okal, a professor
of geological sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Almost immediately after it happened, scientists realized the Papua New
Guinea tsunami was unusual. An offshore earthquake of magnitude 7.0 preceded
the waves, but earthquakes that size strike that area every year or two;
only the 1998 one was accompanied by a tsunami. The deadly devastation was
also confined to a 15-mile stretch of the coast; villages only a few miles
east or west escaped almost unscathed.

That led to speculation that the earthquake had shaken loose a landslide
that in turn caused the tsunami. Surveys of the ocean bottom found freshly
collapsed sediment that slid nearly a mile down a 25-degree slope.

Other scientists argued that a vertical thrust of the sea floor during the
earthquake directly caused the tsunami, but that the amphitheater-shaped
depression around the epicenter focused the waves onto the small section of
the shoreline.

In the latest work, Dr. Okal examined the sound recordings from Wake Island,
which captured a low-frequency rumble (measured at seven hertz) that lasted
45 seconds. In the ocean, sound waves can reflect off layers of water of
different temperatures, allowing them to travel long distances without
fading out. Earthquakes can generate similar low rumbles, but those last
only about 10 seconds, Dr. Okal said.

The findings were reported in the April 8 issue of The Proceedings of the
Royal Society of London.

"For the first time, we are able to identify a landslide from its acoustic
signature," said Dr. Costas E. Synolakis, a professor of civil engineering
at the University of Southern California and lead author of the paper.

Seismic stations on several Pacific islands also recorded the acoustic

Tracing the path the sound waves took, Dr. Synolakis, Dr. Okal and their
colleagues concluded that the rumble came from a landslide that occurred 13
minutes after the earthquake. That, the scientists said, agrees with
accounts from survivors who said the tsunami followed the first large
aftershock, 20 minutes after the earthquake. It also rules out the
earthquake as the cause because the waves would not have taken that long to
travel the 20 miles from the epicenter to the shore. "We had to find a
source which happened 10 to 15 minutes after the main shock," Dr. Okal said.

Eric L. Geist, a research geophysicist at the United States Geological
Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., described the paper as a "very intriguing line
of research," but not definitive proof of the landslide theory. "It's
certainly a plausible story," he said. "We just have no way of verifying it
instrumentally right now."

Mr. Geist said the earthquake, or one of its aftershocks, must have also
caused a tsunami because instruments in Japan thousands of miles away
detected it, a quick-moving wave a few inches high. Landslide-generated
tsunamis dissipate quickly and do not travel that far. He added that in the
chaos, the witnesses could have mistaken the sequence of events.

The theory that underwater landslides can set off tsunamis dates back more
than a century. In recent decades, tsunami researchers shifted their
attention to offshore earthquakes, still thought to be the cause of most

But after Papua New Guinea, scientists thought they might have
underestimated the dangers of landslides. In 2000, scientists at
Pennsylvania State University warned of unstable, waterlogged sediments
under the seabed off New Jersey. The weight of rocks above could potentially
blow the sediments out the side of the continental slope like a stepped-on
water balloon, causing a landslide and a tsunami.

Scientists also see potential collapses in places like the mouth of the St.
Lawrence River where sediment from the river piles up. In 1929, a 7.2
earthquake toppled part of the sediment pile, causing a tsunami.

Underwater landslides have also occurred off the coast of California. In
Monterey Bay, "you see large numbers of bites taken out of the canyon
essentially," said Dr. Steven N. Ward, a research geophysicist at the
University of California at Santa Cruz. "Some look very fresh. Some look
very old. Some look like they haven't happened yet."

The canyon is cracked in some places, Dr. Ward said, and even a small
earthquake near a crack could set off a landslide. Most of the slides in
Monterey Bay are small - only about a fortieth the volume of the Papua New
Guinea landslide - but because they occur very close to shore, they could
still create 15- to 20-foot-high waves that strike a small portion of the
coast. "Ten miles up or down the coast, you won't see it," he said. "It's
big, but it's fairly local."

To better understand how sliding sediments create tsunamis, Dr. Synolakis
and his colleagues conducted experiments earlier this month at Oregon State
University. In what looks like a small swimming pool, they slid a
wedged-shaped block down the slanted bottom of the pool and measured the
size of the waves. They varied the weight of the wedge between 200 and 1,000
pounds by adding lead weights.

The measurements show that, contrary to earlier beliefs, that the largest
waves are not caused by the push of the wedge.

"The big thing is sucking water down" behind the sliding wedge, Dr.
Synolakis said. "Now we find most of the energy is expended in creating the
wave on the back end of the slide," which head in the opposite direction -
toward the shore.

Copyright 2002, The New York Times


>From Ron Baalke <>

                Third Announcement and Final Call for Papers

                                  HVIS 2003

Hosted by the European Space Agency's Research & Technology Centre (ESTEC)

                               7-10 April 2003
                          Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin
                         Noordwijk, The Netherlands

The Hypervelocity Impact Symposium is a regular event that is dedicated to
enabling and promoting an understanding of the basic physics of high
velocity impact and related technical areas. This international event
provides a forum for researchers to share and exchange a wealth of knowledge
through oral and poster presentations and technical exhibits.

HVIS 2003 will be the eighth symposium in a series. It will be hosted by
ESTEC and held in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. The dates of the conference
coincide with the tourist season in the bulb district and Noordwijk is
located in this district.

The technical sessions will be held at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin,
Noordwijk during April 7-10, 2003.

All papers presented at the Symposium will be published in a refereed volume
of the International Journal of Impact Engineering.

Symposium topics

   * Hypervelocity phenomenology studies
   * High-velocity launchers and diagnostics
   * Spacecraft meteoroid and debris shielding and failure analysis
   * Material behaviour under high velocity impacts
   * Fracture and fragmentation
   * High velocity penetration mechanics and target response
   * Analytical and numerical simulation techniques
   * Asteroid impact and planetary defence technology
   * Penetration mechanics of shaped charges and explosively formed penetrators
   * Planetary impacts

Call for papers

Abstract of proposed papers are solicited from those actively interested and
involved in hypervelocity impact. The preferred method of submitting
abstracts is using the form on this web site.

If it is not possible to submit your abstract through the web site, it may
be submitted by e-mail as an attachment or by mailing a printed copy, along
with a diskette copy to the following address:

HVIS 2003
ESTEC Conference Bureau
Postbus 299
NL-2200 AG Noordwijk
The Netherlands
Tel: +31-71-565-5005
Fax: +31-71-565-5658

Abstract must be received no later than May 15, 2002

Authors will be notified in June 2002 of the review decision for their
proposed paper. An author's packet will be mailed to authors whose abstracts
are accepted.

Acceptance of an abstract indicates preliminary acceptance of a paper for
publication in the International Journal of Impact Engineering, subject to a
technical peer review with final recommendation on the basis of such review.

HVIS Web site



>From Daniel Fischer <>

Dear Benny and all others in the NEO community,

the recent most interesting "cases" of 1950DA and especially 2002CU11 raise
a question that has not been discussed on CCNet in recent memory: How do we
define the *moment* when we really have to start working on active
deflection of a probable impactor?

Most papers on mitigation issues agree that a) we will know years, probably
decades in advance of an impact that it will happen and that we have to do
something about it, b) that this case will in all likelyhood happen many
decades, if not centuries, from now (but it will happen one day), and c)
that therefore no anti-NEO hardware should be built now, as our technology
will be so much better anyway at the time it will be needed eventually.

This sounds all very straightforward, but I'm missing a discussion on the
point-of-decision: At which impact probability do we start to build a
deflection system - be it of the 'traditional' stand-off nuke or the
innovative Yarkovsky-modification kind - for a specific threatening NEO?
What if, for example, the probability of a 2049 impact of 2002CU11 had not
gone down (as it did, to 1:77,000 on April 9) but would have kept rising?

I recall some simulations of how the probability of an actual collision with
Earth would rise over time - there were presentations at DPS conferences,
and a video simulation by Paul Chodas was once shown on ABC's World News
Tonight, with the error ellipse around Earth shrinking as time went on.
Those studies often were just meant as reminders that more precise
astrometry of NEOs was in order. But who has discussed the actual decisions
that have to me made about mitigation measures and when they would have to
take place?

Daniel Fischer
science writer


Remarks from Jon Richfield on report by Natalia Reznik  via Andrew Yee

Hi Benny

A quick note concerning: HOW LIFE ORIGINATED IN SPACE (CCNet, 23 April 2002)

Some readers may be familiar with some of my fulminations on related
subjects during the past few years, and decided that I was unregenerately
resistant to the idea of extraterrestrial life.  This is incorrect. For what
it is worth, I expect that there is life of sorts elsewhere in the universe
and that it will have certain correspondences and resemblances to life on
Earth.  Whether its frequency is likely to be once per planet in the
biosphere, once per solar system, once per million stars, once per galaxy,
or what, I don't know. There are too many gross uncertainties and I wish we
could devote just point zero one percent of our global budget to related
studies! What gets my goat is a number of incorrect assumptions and
untenable deductions that tend to be associated with such discussions.

I am sceptical about life on Mars and even more sceptical about any of it
getting to Earth and practically dismissive about its having established
itself here if ever it did arrive, either as the origin of Earthly life, or
as a component of Earthly life. 

But I am listening...

Meanwhile, E.A. Kuzicheva and N.B.Gontareva from St Petersburg have
apparently produced 5'-AMP under conditions of hard vacuum and UV in the
presence of lunar soil. This is of course interesting, but why they think it
is relevant to the problem, is unclear. If there were no
source of such an important molecule on earth, then maybe it would be more
exciting, but many purine and pyrimidine derivatives have been produced in
circumstances believed to resemble prebiotic terrestrial conditions. The
terrestrial product would have exceeded the input from
space by vast factors. 

Terrestrial chemosynthetic products of a far greater variety than those from
space could arise readily and plentifully in our seas and ground water. But
that is not by any means the most important point.  

Remember the fact (frequently, though irrelevantly, harped on by
creationists) that to expect combinatorial generation of the substances
needed for functional life is totally unrealistic, and to expect the
generation of living structures is beyond fantasy, even if we filled the
known universe solid with candidate molecules. If one thing is pretty near
certainty, it is that life on Earth originally developed by natural
selection, through complementary interaction of candidate substances. This
would raise the process from stochastic to a cumulatively heuristic
status. (Assuming of course, that neither the chariots of the gods nor
meteorites simply delivered life ready packaged.) 

Now, such candidate substances may have been present in space as well as on
Earth, but in space the desiccated, irradiated, isolated molecules were
largely stuck where they originated.  On Earth they could move, meet and
interact dynamically, either in solution or adsorbed onto the controlling
and organising surfaces of minerals. The huge rate and range of such
interactions over periods of millions or hundreds of millions of years was
almost certainly vital to the emergence of life. It involved forms of
natural selection practically  from the development of the first candidate
biomolecules. Even if we were to accept the concept of the Wickramasinghe
muddy comet, which is a reasonable reaction to this form of argument, that
would not make much difference; suppose the comet were far from the sun --
it would be frozen, so that molecular migration and interaction would for
practical purposes be prevented.  On the other hand, if it is frequently
near enough to the sun to melt, it will be desiccated within a few hundred
thousand years. Not a very promising cradle of life, compared to the bulk,
activity and duration of the young planet!  

I have a few other niggles with the reports from Russia, though they are
lukewarm in comparison to the foregoing.

>On the Earth the reaction goes in the solution, but there are no
solvents whatsoever in space, therefore the researchers dried them in the
air and got a pellicle. <

"Dried them in the air"??? That already leaves us with serious questions as
to the relevance to the conditions in space. I wonder whether such a
"pellicle" would have developed in a vacuum.  Usually vacuum drying gives a
very fine, almost molecular powder, rather than coherent pellets with
well-defined surfaces (if that is what the translator meant by this use of
the word "pellicle".)  Also, reaction with various atmospheric gases could
have changed the initial conditions in all sorts of relevant ways.  I don't
wish to niggle unreasonably, but I would need more detailed  reassurance
than I have time to listen to, before the validity of this procedure would
satisfy me. 

"...and the researchers used the lunar soil, delivered to the Earth
by the 'Moon-16' station from the Sea of Abundance, as a model of the
comet, meteorite, interplanetary or cosmic dust. The soil represented
basaltic dust..."

This is not a logical objection, but I don't see why lunar dust should have
been any more interesting in this experiment than ground ancient basalt from
Earth.  In fact I should be interested to see a control experiment.  My
money says that the two should show very little difference in outcome. 

"...It has appeared that a small pinch of the lunar soil protects
organic substances from the destructive ultraviolet impact -- the lunar
soil helps to increase the 5'-AMP yield by 2.7 times."

Again, what is so special about the lunar soil?  I do not suggest that the
investigators stated that it was in fact special, but putting it like that
makes it sound as though it was the lunar nature of the soil that did the
trick.  If that was in fact what they intended, then control runs with
terrestrial basalt would be in order. 

>The researchers have made a conclusion that the organic compounds
synthesis could have happened in the outer space environment. The
synthesis could have taken place on the surface of space bodies at
the initial phases of the solar system formation, along with that the
chemical evolution (formation and selection of complex molecules) could have
started in space.<

This is not at issue.  All the way back to Oparin, Miller and Urey, this
would have been unexciting.

>By the time the Earth was formed the chemical evolution might have
approached the phase to be followed by the biological evolution.
That implies that life on the Earth most probably did not start from
the elementary organic molecules synthesis, but commenced from the
polymers formation phase or from a further stage. <

Here the wheels come off with a grinding thump. First of all, the amazing
thing about the first emergence of life on Earth is not how fast the first
candidate biochemicals emerged; a few hours, weeks or even millions of years
would be neither here nor there.  The breathtaking (and exciting) thing is
how quickly the complex, functional structures emerged, and as I have said,
it is grossly implausible that they could have emerged in space, either in
muddy comets or in desiccated "pellicles".  More or less random polymers
form prolifically on Earth and any traces arriving from space are extremely
unlikely to have contributed anything of importance. 

Also, how many such pellicles or functionally equivalent structures have
been found on meteorites in or form space?  Are our pellicles relevant to
what goes on out there? 

Interesting work of course, and I doubt that such an informal report covers
it adequately, but even so, it does not sound like a fundamental  new
insight into probable mechanisms of abiogenesis. 



     "Marriage has many pains, but celibacy
      has no pleasures"  --  Samuel Johnson


>From Bob Kobres <>

Andrei Ol'khovatov has rekindled interest in a 1931 high-energy event that
was mentioned by John Lewis on page 128 of RAIN OF IRON AND ICE (1996).  The
report that appeared in the New York Times is here:

E-mails rekindle 71-year-old mystery
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
David Lore
Dispatch Science Reporter

MALINTA, Ohio -- The drainage ditches cut long and deep through the tabletop
farming area southwest of Toledo, channels cavernous enough to swallow any
trace of the mysterious explosion that rocked this Henry County village 71
years ago this spring.

Only a handful of the 300 people who live here today are old enough to
remember the blast, which briefly put the small railroad town on front pages
around the world.

Nobody knows what happened, but the explosion has been ascribed through the
years to a meteor, an earthquake, a gas-well explosion or maybe even a
container of nitroglycerin dumped by nervous bank robbers.

Everybody, in fact, had pretty much forgotten about it until messages from
Moscow started arriving this month. The biggest boom ever to hit Malinta
came during the early morning hours of June 10, 1931. It woke up sleepy
Henry County, snapped off trees and utility poles and rocked houses as far
west as Indiana and as far south as Columbus.

Continued @:
[requires free registration]


Bob Kobres
Main Library
University of Georgia
Athens, GA  30602


>From Andrew Yee <>

University of California-Santa Cruz

Media Contacts:
Tim Stephens, (831) 459-4352,

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Space-Based Missile Defense Systems Could Jeopardize Space

SANTA CRUZ, CA -- The Bush administration's plan to develop space-based
missile defense systems has generated heated debate, but most commentators
have overlooked an important and potentially destructive consequence of
placing weapons in orbit around the Earth. The militarization of space could
create a permanent halo of orbiting debris that will interfere with
important scientific and communication satellites, according to Joel
Primack, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"In science fiction movies like Star Wars there are constant explosions, but
a few seconds later the screen is clean. It's not going to work that way
near a planet," Primack said.

About 3 million kilograms of space debris (roughly 6 million pounds), from
dead satellites to paint chips, already orbit the Earth. The U.S. Space
Command tracks over 9,000 objects larger than four inches in diameter, and
operational satellites can take evasive action to avoid
being hit by one of these larger objects. In the range from four inches down
to about the size of a marble, there are relatively few objects now in

The most serious hazard currently is the non-trackable debris smaller than a
marble that orbits the planet at speeds around 17,000 miles per hour, 10
times faster than a bullet from a high-powered rifle, Primack said. A
BB-sized fragment traveling that speed has the destructive
power of a bowling ball moving over 60 miles per hour, and a marble-sized
fragment can do even more damage. Satellites are armored, but they can only
withstand BB-sized particles. Even the International Space Station is
vulnerable to any debris much larger than a BB.

Space-based missiles will generate huge amounts of small debris particles,
said Primack. Some will arise from weapon explosions, but even more will
come from the resulting small projectiles hitting larger objects already in
orbit and fragmenting them. According to Primack, so many bits of junk could
eventually be orbiting the Earth that no satellite or space station could be
operated in Low Earth Orbit, 200 to 1,250 miles above the planet. Space
shuttles and other space vehicles would need heavy armor to pass through the

Most communications satellites are located in higher orbits that would not
be as affected by the debris, but some, such as those for mobile phones, are
in lower orbits and already in danger. No methods to remove space debris now

"If we do this, we're going to create a terrible problem there's no easy
solution for, but the space debris aspect of a 'Star Wars' missile system is
just not talked about in the public arena," Primack said.

Primack will give a talk on this issue on April 19 at the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in
Paris during the Science and the Quest for Meaning Conference. The
conference explores the connections between science and spirituality.

Primack said it would be unethical and immoral to jeopardize peaceful uses
of space for short-term military gains. Like many researchers, Primack
relies on data from astronomical satellites in Low Earth Orbit, where
missile defense systems would also be located. His theoretical work on the
nature of the "dark matter" in the universe, for example, was supported by
evidence from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which
detected fluctuations in the first light of the universe. Space-based
telescopes are ushering in a new era in space research, and Primack said he
believes researchers will soon be able to answer fundamental questions in

"The data from COBE, the Hubble Space Telescope, and other new observatories
should at last give astrophysicists a solid foundation on which to construct
an overarching theory of the origin and evolution of the universe, an achievement that
is also bound to have deep implications for the development of human culture," Primack said.

In 1993, NASA issued the Policy to Limit Orbital Debris Generation, but it
has had little impact, Primack said. He hopes that an international treaty
prohibiting explosions in space and requiring all satellites to carry mechanisms
to de-orbit them safely will be created in the future.

"Every person who cares about the human future in space should also realize
that militarizing space jeopardizes the possibility of space exploration,"
Primack said.

Primack is not new to questions of scientific ethics and policy. He helped
to create the American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society and
teaches a course on "Cosmology and Culture" with his wife, attorney Nancy
Ellen Abrams, at UC Santa Cruz.

The Science and the Quest for Meaning Conference is sponsored by Science and
the Spiritual Quest II and the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris.

# # #

Editor's note: Reporters may contact Joel Primack at (831) 459-2580 or until April 17, or after the conference. To reach him
during the conference, contact Tim Stephens in the UCSC Public Information
Office at (831) 459-2495 or .

Additional information about the conference,

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