CCNet DEBATE, 2 OCTOBER 1998
From Jay Tate <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pete Worden's comments may have been a bit harsh, but seem quite reasonable
given the circumstances. The planetary defence programme, at least until an
impending threat is discovered, is hardly a "big new programme". Its costs fade
into insignificance in comparison with some others that have considerably less
relevance to the people who are paying (the general public). I am also a little
perplexed at Louis Friedman's description of the impact threat as "imagined".
There is a considerably stronger scientific consensus on this hazard than, for
instance on global warming or BSE/CJD - both subjects that are receiving
There is no doubt that NASA is doing, and planning to do a lot of good minor planet
and cometary science, but I think one has to be very careful before poo-pooing the
question of planetary defence just as the scale of the hazard is becoming clear,
and the sponsors of the scientific community are becoming increasingly interested.
Anyway, as a Brit I am finding American politics increasingly difficult to
understand! (Lewinski joke withheld in the interests of taste!)
WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD: IMPACT HAZARD IS NO LONGER 'IMAGINARY'
From Bob Kobres <email@example.com>
"Imaginary threat" is a very poor choice of words, Louis. I've a 1987 letter from
you thanking me for the article (misnamed: Meteor Defense) I wrote for the Whole
Earth Review, so I think that you view this threat seriously. Perhaps you meant to
convey 'poorly defined threat.' If you did intend to say that, it would be good to
clarify this point, as there are many people who do think that the threat of impact
is not something we need to be concerned with and that it is being trumped up to
provide a boondoggle for the MIC's techies.
NEWT'S ATTACK IS NOT ABOUT CLINTON'S CLEMENTINE II VETO
From Ed Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Col. Worden -
Good to hear from a fellow supporter of Clementine II. If Newt was out attacking
President Clinton's veto of Clementine II, he would have my support. But that's
not what he's up to. Newt simply wants to weaken Clinton: he smells blood in
Russia's failure with ISS (a failure which is more properly described as Koptev and
Semenov's failure in managing the Russian space program).
As "ideological cover" for this attack, Newt's using the nonsense from the escapist
fantasists at Space Frontier Foundation for his rationalizations. You know,
"privatize" (cancel) International Space Station; "privatize" (cancel) Shuttle;
NASA uses all its money to buy a manned Mars system from the private sector (us);
and then we'll all fly off to Mars.
No doubt that given the Republican base in states with military manufacturers and
bases, as well as space manufacturers and launch facilities, Newt has no intention
of actually following through with any of this SFF nonsense. His effort is not
about NASA, but simply another method of weakening Clinton.
The first in what will undoubtedly be a series of attacks on Russian involvement in
ISS will take place next week. God knows what we'll be left with in terms of
putting together a planetary defense system after Newt gets done.
Best wishes -
GOLDIN'S STATEMENT ON NASA'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY
Headquarters, Washington, DC Oct. 1, 1998
ADMINISTRATOR GOLDIN'S STATEMENT ON NASA'S FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY
Forty years ago, in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was
created with the boldest and most noble of missions: to pioneer the future. We
were told to explore new frontiers and enhance life here on Earth. We were asked
to instruct; we were expected to inspire. Forty years later, thanks to an American
public with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a relentless sense of
adventure, NASA has delivered.
Think about this: Forty years ago, jet passenger service was a novelty. Global
communications meant a telephone line laid across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
When NASA was first getting started, the only way to track hurricanes was to fly
planes directly over and into the storms. Our universe -- even the cosmic
neighborhood just above our atmosphere -- was a mystery. In 1958, sending humans
to the moon was pure science fiction.
But we dared to dream. We imagined what could be possible. And then along with
our partners in industry and academia, we went to work.
In 1998, hundreds of millions of people ride American jets each year and new
designs for flight go higher, faster and farther than ever before. Global space
communications have helped create a global community. Weather satellites can
detect the early evolution of an El Nino condition months in advance. There are
still many mysteries to be solved, but Voyager, Galileo, the Hubble Space Telescope
and other planetary and astronomy missions have circled neighboring planets, given
us our first direct evidence that black holes exist, and begun to peer back at the
very beginning of our universe. A space program that is forty years old has sent
astronauts to the moon, robots to Mars, spacecraft to the furthest reaches of our
solar system, and soon will help build the International Space Station. And for
every step we take out there, we have contributed to a better quality of life right
here. That is true whether it be the "spin-off" technology that helps us detect
breast cancer earlier, or the child who looks up and knows that no longer is the
sky the limit; it is the stars and beyond.
NASA has had a great forty years, but what the American people can be most proud of
is this: when it comes to pioneering the future, we are just getting started. What
will always define this aeronautics and space program -- and this country -- is our
firm belief that there will forever be something to invent, somewhere to discover,
someplace to visit.
Rest assured, NASA will do its best in the next forty years to find out just what
and where that will be.
SATELLITES MAY BE SHATTERED BY INVISIBLE METEORS
From Andrew Yee <email@example.com>
Claire Bowles, firstname.lastname@example.org, 44 171 331 2751
Barbara Thurlow, email@example.com, (202) 452-1178
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 30 SEPTEMBER 1998 at 2:00 p.m. EDT
Satellites May Be Shattered By Invisible Meteors
THE Leonid meteor storm that may light up the sky in Asia when it strikes the Earth
next month could pose a bigger threat to satellites than astronomers had feared.
Every year, around mid-November, the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet called
Tempel-Tuttle and passes through debris the comet has shed. This burns up in
the upper atmosphere as a meteor shower. Every 32 to 33 years, the Earth runs
into an especially dense cloud of debris, turning the shower into a storm. At
the peak of the last storm, in 1966, the skies above North America were lit
up by 5000 meteors in just 20 minutes.
Astronomers are now bracing themselves for the next Leonid storm, predicted to
reach a peak around 17 November. Communications and other satellites could be
threatened by the bombardment -- and both NASA and the Russian Space Agency
have postponed launches until the danger has passed.
No one knows just how bad the damage will be. For example, astronomers can't
predict with certainty exactly where the densest part of the debris cloud is. Now
Duncan Steel, an astronomer with Spaceguard Australia in Adelaide, has thrown
another variable into the equation. If his model of the chemical composition of the
Leonid meteors is correct, attempts to observe the approaching meteors may detect
only a few per cent of them.
Steel says that data gathered during the recent visits by comets Hale-Bopp and
Hyakutake reveal that the dust these comets gave off was rich in volatile organic
compounds. If the same is true of the cometary debris that forms the Leonids, most
of the meteors may be invisible. This is because if they are made of highly
volatile material, many will burn up at relatively low temperatures -- too low to
leave behind glowing trails detectable from the ground. Cool-burning meteors will
also emit relatively few electrons, and that will make them invisible to
ground-based radars, which can only spot electron-dense trails.
"If small meteoroids in storms are largely composed of organics, then none of the
data collected to date gives a realistic assessment of the hazard level," says
Steel, whose conclusions are published this week in the journal Astronomy and
Geophysics (vol 39, p 24).
Current estimates put the risk of a serious impact between a meteor and a large
satellite at about one in a thousand. Steel says his study suggests that this
"seriously underestimates" the hazard. "If I am right, the economic loss caused by
the Leonids may be immense," he says.
Other astronomers agree that the reliability of the storm predictions depends
crucially on the composition of the meteors. "Steel's paper is very interesting --
though whether it is actually correct is another matter," says Iwan Williams of
Queen Mary and Westfield College, London. "We may know after the Leonids next
Steel's advice is not to rely too heavily on satellite communication and navigation
systems in the coming month. "I would not depend for my life on the Global
Positioning System being fully functional on 18 November," he says.
Author: Robert Matthews
New Scientist issue 3rd October 1998
PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS ARTICLE - THANK YOU
PLANETARY DEFENSE, NASA & THE US GOVERNMENT
From Louis Friedman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pete Worden's response is a bit harsh. Programs need to be evaluated on their
merits. I think it is fair to say that the Clinton Administration has been
skeptical of "planetary defense" -- with good reason; neither the DOD nor NASA, as
well as the scientific community really think a big new program against an imagined
threat is warranted. On the other hand increases in scientific programs (including
Earth based observations), and missions such as NEAR, NASA participation in
MUSES-c, New Millennium, Discovery, etc. are terrific additions to the search for
new knowledge. The issue raised by Mr. Grondine was not so much Republican-bashing
as wondering what was behind Gingrich's strange criticism of NASA for not doing
things the Congress never wanted them to do (like sending humans again to the
Moon). The only thing it could have been was the openning up of a partisan attack
on NASA for other reasons -- e.g. perhaps moving the Republicans away from the
space station, or some other move against NASA in next year's budget. It was
PLANETARY DEFENSE, NASA & THE US GOVERNMENT
Col, XOR Pete Worden <email@example.com>
If Mr. Grondine was more interested in the facts than bashing the Republicans he
would remember that the most promising planetary defense effort we had --
Clementine II -- was pushed and funded by among others Mr. Gingrich and it was
line-item vetoed and terminated by Mr. Clinton. Moreover, its this Administration
that has placed the NASA budget into a death spiral -- direct linear decreases in
real dollars of about 5% per year, the only U.S. Government research agency so
blessed. Mr. Clinton's White House has made it very clear that they are not
interested in planetary defense and have told the Defense Dept to stay away from
CCCMENU CCC for 1998