CCNet DEBATE, 8 October 1998

    Brian G. Marsden <>

    E.P. Grondine <>

    Oliver Morton <>

    Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>


From Brian G. Marsden <>

Let me respond to Mike Baillie's question by remarking that the
575-year period, given by Halley and apparently embraced by Newton, for
the celebrated 1680/1681 comet arose solely because of Halley's
conviction that the same comet had previously appeared in 1106, 531 and
44 B.C., this last being supposedly the comet said to have appeared
following the assassination of Julius Caesar.

It was proven by Cowell and Crommelin early in the twentieth
century that the 531 (actually 530) comet is in fact an early apparition
of Halley's 75-year-period comet.  It was suspected by Kreutz, already
a century ago, that the 1106 comet was a member of the sungrazing
comet group that bears his name; while an actual proof of this seems
not to be possible, my own study of the Kreutz comets, which have orbits
significantly different from that of the 1680/1681 comet, has tended
to support the Kreutz hypothesis.  Finally, it was shown by
Ramsey and Licht in their recent monograph on "Caesar's Comet" that
Halley's scenario was completely wrong with regard to the month in
which the object appeared, as well as to the time of day and position
in the sky.  So, while Halley's conjecture of the 575-year period was
quite ingenious, all three pieces of earlier supporting evidence have
now disappeared.

Furthermore, given the crudeness of the positional data available
to them, there was no way that either Newton or Halley would have been
able to say that the observations in 1680/1681 could not be satisfied
by a parabola.  Encke published a more thorough study of the 1680/1681
data in 1818, refining the comet's positions by means of more precise
information about the positions of the reference stars to which the
comet's positions were referred.  As a result, he derived a nominal
revolution period for the comet of more than 8000 years and suggested
that a period of less than 2000 years would be an impossibility.

Whiston, the rather bizzarre character who succeeded Newton in
the Lucasian chair at Cambridge, took things to extremes and used the
575-year period to tie the comet to The Deluge (which he supposed to
occur in 2349 B.C.) and predicted that the comet's next appearance in
2255 would signify the end of the world.  If the world does end in
2255, it will not be because of the 1680/1681 comet.


From E.P. Grondine <>

Benny -

Sorry to be so late in getting this to you. Last wednesday I went into
Washington for a hearing of the House Space subcommittee marking NASA's
40th anniversary, as well as to a speech by Dan Goldin at NASA marking
the occasion. I think that the Conference members will find Dan
Goldin's current long range view of the United States's future in space
of interest, and I know they will find the extremely brief conversation
I had with him on the NEO problem fascinating.

Originally the hearing witnesses were to have been Dan Goldin; Dr.
Eilene Galloway (who spoke on her Congressional work during the
Eisenhower administration); Astronaut Pete Conrad, now Chairman of
Universal Space Lines; Dr. Howard McCurdy, Professor of Public
Administration (bureaucracy) at American University; and two witnesses 
hostile  to NASA: Mr. Rick Tumlinson, President of the Space Frontier
Foundation, and Keith Cowling, Former NASA Employee and publisher of
NASA Watch.  Deft moves on NASA's part succeeded in getting Keith
Cowling removed as a witness, and the hearing time moved from 3:00 PM,
which would have allowed time for an attack on NASA, to 12:00-2:00,
which did not.  Turnout by the Congressmen was light, but another
hearing has been scheduled for this wednesday at which the Clinton
administration's and NASA's policy of working with the Russians on the
International Space Station will be attacked.

Dan Goldin set out NASA's immediate operational as such: 1) Insure the
safety of the astronauts and make sure NASA does no harm to other
people; 2)Get the International Space Station into operation; 3)Develop
new launch systems to lower the cost of getting into space.

Administrator Goldin set out a brief fictional account of a Japanese
Prime Minister's work 40 years from now which described his own
vision of the future.  First, Goldin mentioned a craft capable of flying
in 2 hours from Washington to Tokyo (this would use technologies
evolved along the lines of the X-30 scramjet, which was initially
looked at during the Reagan administration). An international outpost
has been set up on Mars. An interstellar probe has just been launched,
and advanced telescopes are capable of imaging planets in other solar
systems. The weather can be accurately  forecast for decades.

The private sector is involved with manufacturing, mining, energy
production and tourism on the Moon, Mars, and Near Earth Asteroids.
NASA operates a facility at Solar Libration Point 1. The Mars ship has
a closed loop life support system and is self sufficient. Virtual
reality systems have evolved, and people use them to vicariously join in
the exploration of the solar system.  All of these technologies
mentioned relied on intelligent computer systems.    

Goldin's closed his presentation with a defense of NASA and an appeal
for bi-partisan support and a stable legislative environment. The next
few weeks show tell whether he gets any of this, but Rick Tumlinson
then set out the Space Frontier Foundations goals, which it appears
that Newt Gingrich is going to use as the ideological cover for his
attack on NASA and the Administration.

Tumlinson's desires are evident: "you and I and our children have
little more chance of going into space...than we had at (NASA's)
beginning.", and he deeply resents not being among the "few elite
government employees and their friends" who are astronauts. To get into
space Tumlinson has several schemes, none well thought out. Tumlinson
wants to privatize the Shuttle now, so that he can use it to fly to
space. He wants Mir to be privatized and kept in orbit as a tourist
destination. (I hope the Russians don't actually take this guy
seriously. I'm sure Speaker Gingrich differs with him on this point.)  
Tumlinson wants to privatize the ISS, which is then supposed to be
transformed into the tourist destination "Alpha Town". NASA is supposed
to take all the money it saves by doing these things and buy a Mars
outpost from the private sector, in other words from the people of the
Space Frontier Foundation: "Moneys saved from space station shuttle and
center operations should be used to fund the development and operation
of pioneering technologies that will enable the exploration and
settlement of Mars."  As for the Moon, Tumlinson sees that "Lunar
missions could go a long way to laying the groundwork for the rapid
development of the first human outpost on another world."

The pathetic thing is that this guy was invited to speak by the
Committee in the first place, and it is a sign of how bizarre things
have become in Washington that he was not laughed out of the hearing

The hearing ended at 2:00 PM sharp, and Dan Goldin proceeded to the
NASA auditorium where he gave the same speech to NASA employees. 
Afterwards a reception was held in front of the auditorium, and I had a
chance to speak him.


E.P.: "I noticed that your presentation made no mention of Planetary

Goldin (smiling):"Planetary Defense is not NASA's task."

E.P.: "But surely you help the Air Force with tracking?"

Goldin: "I had so many things to mention." (pause)

"I must have 30 things hanging over my head right now." (motions with
hand over head )


E.P.: "You have a real problem there."

Goldin: "How so?"

E.P.: "The numbers that you are working with are about 3 times too low.
We know this from the historical record."

(looked me directly in the eyes)

Goldin: "Thanks."


From Oliver Morton <>

Dear Benny -- your latest stirred a few thoughts.

While I'm not greatly invested in the Sagan/Ostro threat, I thought
James Perry was a little too dismissive. His confidence that a
strangelove-style madman would be easily controlled through PALs, etc,
ignores the fact that most nuclear powers do not have universal PALs or
similar controls. What's more, he assumes at some  points that the risk
is of a global catastrophe, while engineered regional devestations are
also possible. They'd be harder to pull off, I agree, but politicians
and generals have been known to attempt things they couldn't pull off
while all the time convinced that they could...

He also assumes that a collision would be engineered using an existing
deflection system, which is not necessarily the case. And he ignores
the fact that an asteroid, while unwieldy, might when used as a weapon
provide benefits in terms of leverage and deniability.

Jens Kieffer-Olsen assumes that use of nuclear explosives means the
involvement of the military. While in the rest of the world this might
be the case, in the US nuclear explosives come under the remit of the
Department of Energy. As I understand it, this is the result of a
decision -- in the Eisenhower administration, or earlier -- that nukes
were too important to leave to the generals. It is the DoE that designs
and makes the things; nuclear tests were, when they used to occur, DoE
responsibilities, I believe. So a civilian use of nuclear explosives is
conceivable -- indeed, precedent suggests that American public opinion
and political prractice would both point to civilian control of
non-military nukes in such a context.

Yours, oliver


From Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

I wasn't aware of the DoE being involved with nuclear tests. Anyway, my
main point is that the defense of planet Earth should not lie in the
same domain as the scientific exploration of space. Quite simply
because the decision to prioritize and allocate available funds should
be taken at a visible, political level.

Following up on James Perry's contribution I can say that in my vision
each nuclear device in space needs to be unlocked by five keys, each of
the permanent members of UN security council possessing one.

Our fears are then reduced to the possibility that one key-holder
refuses to unlock the device when it's badly needed.  That could be
helped by four out of five keys being sufficient for the deployment
with the caveat that due to the leading role played by the US their key
is mandatory.    

Jens Kieffer-Olsen, M.Sc.(Elec.Eng.)

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