Friday, 27 July 1990 Washington, DC
1. THE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS FINALLY LEFT THE LAUNCH PAD--SIDEWAYS,
after attempts to fix the persistent hydrogen leak failed. It
was rolled back to the hangar, and prospects for the NASA budget
may have gone with it, as the space station cannot be built
without a reliable shuttle. The cost estimate has been quietly
raised to an unearthly $37B, and the maintenance problem will
require a complete redesign
(WN 13 Jul 90). Congressman Bill
Green (R-NY), the senior Republican on the House Appropriations
subcommittee that funds NASA, has called for the space station to
be abandoned. However, confidence in NASA is not likely to be
restored by the "independent" advisory panel that will study the
future of the space program. Vice President Quayle announced
that Norman Augustine, the CEO of Martin Marietta has been chosen
to head the study. Martin Marietta, a major NASA contractor,
built the external fuel tanks on the shuttle. The Vice President
may have said it best in March before the Phoenix Republican
Forum, "If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure."
2. THE SHUTTLE STAYS ON THE GROUND--AND THE SSC GOES INTO ORBIT!
DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) heard yesterday
from a subpanel that the SSC is now expected to cost $8.6B, up
another $0.6B since March (WN 16 Mar 90).
In an attempt to blunt
the impact of the HEPAP estimate, DOE called a press conference a
day earlier to announce two other estimates: a preliminary figure
of $7.8B by the contractor, Universities Research Association,
and $8.3B from the DOE Energy Research Department. An estimate
by an Independent Cost Estimate Committee is not yet available,
but is rumored to be even higher than HEPAP's. DOE will consider
the four estimates before giving Congress a hard number by the
17 Aug deadline. DOE seems inclined to accept the URA figure and
hold them to it, which could be a prescription for another
Hubble. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected
the House requirement for foreign participation in the SSC; it
would only result in the loss of contracts for American magnet
(WN 16 Mar 90).
Not to worry! Last month's delegation to
Japan and Korea (WN 1 Jun 90) came back
without a yen.
3. FEDERAL RESEARCH ON HEALTH EFFECTS OF ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS
was reviewed by an environmental subcommittee of the House on
Wednesday. As usual when this subject comes up the hearing room
was packed. Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) spoke on behalf of H.R. 4801,
the "Electric and Magnetic Field Research and Public Information
Act," which would authorize $34M over four years
(WN 8 Jun 90).
Witnesses on both sides of the controversy agreed on the need for
research, but most of the time was taken up with testimony by
Ross Adey, an M.D. who claims exposure to weak low-frequency
magnetic field affects the immune system and muddles the brain.
More skeptical witnesses were given only five minutes. At one
point, a question was raised about possible health effects of the
SSC magnets on the health of nearby residents. Sigh....