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Tind Shepper Ryen is a graduate student of science policy at the University of Colorado. Shep's interests lie in the use of science information in federal decision-making, space policy, and intellectual property.

Time to Retool NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy July 28, 2005

Leadership in Space
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy May 02, 2005

Senate Reorganizes
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Science Policy: General March 03, 2005

House Juggles Science Spending
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | R&D Funding | Science Policy: General February 17, 2005

O'Keefe to Leave NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy December 13, 2004

Budget Woes for NASA
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy November 30, 2004

Ethics and the Anti-Matter Bomb
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Science Policy: General October 05, 2004

This Rise of Commercial Space
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy September 29, 2004

Francis Hits the Cape
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy September 08, 2004

Designing the Electric Grid
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Energy Policy August 10, 2004

NASA Nixes TRMM Extension
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy July 19, 2004

Risk and Space Flight
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy July 02, 2004

Science, Art, and Safety
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Biotechnology July 01, 2004

Koshland Science Museum
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Hodge Podge June 14, 2004

Paying for Pills
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Health June 09, 2004

The Science Policy of Bill Joy
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Science Policy: General June 07, 2004

O'Keefe Sticks to His Guns: No Shuttle Mission to Hubble
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Risk & Uncertainty | Space Policy June 02, 2004

International Competition
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | International | Science Policy: General May 03, 2004

Science Feels Threatened by Bush Space Policy
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy April 26, 2004

Why Prometheus?
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Site News April 23, 2004

Nanotechnology: Paving the Way for the Little Guy
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Nanotechnology April 09, 2004

Opening May 1st
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Site News April 09, 2004

July 28, 2005

Time to Retool NASA

The left-of-center LA Times has a strongly-worded editorial this morning calling for the permanent end to shuttle flights as well as the International Space Station, the right-of-center Washington Times has a piece suggesting that any manned mission to the moon or Mars is a waste of time and money, and of course everyone is talking about the grounding of the shuttle fleet.

Losing a two to three foot long piece of foam is a very serious matter, and drives home the point Roger made yesterday that space travel is currently a very risky business. Hopefully it also gets NASA, the public, and Congress to start talking more about what we want out of a national space program.

The space station and shuttle are the biggest obstacles to making fundamental changes at NASA. Currently the shuttle is the only system capable of launching and constructing Station, which is currently about half complete. Permanently grounding the shuttle would all but end the ISS mission, making ISS the 2nd space station the U.S. has left out in the cold. Also recall that the U.S. is but one member of the international partnership, a partnership that by and large still thinks useful science and work can eventually be accomplished in low-Earth orbit. Furthermore, this year's Congressional debates have reflected large support for keeping the shuttle flying. S. 1281, the Senate NASA bill, directs NASA to fly the shuttle as long as is needed to avoid any "gap" between the shuttle and a replacement. A mandatory 2010 retirement in the Republican House bill, H.R. 3070, was removed in the bi-partisan version that passed last Friday. So, while there's no doubt that ISS acts as a 50 billion dollar anchor on the U.S. space program, abandoning it will not be easy.

Tackling this will involve thinking about a number of fundamental issues. What does society want in a manned space program, what are our basic goals and what are our priorites? In the end, three key questions need to be discussed. Should the ISS mission continue? Can ISS continue without the shuttle? And can the U.S. step off the path it's been on for the last 35 years?

Posted on July 28, 2005 07:46 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

May 02, 2005

Leadership in Space

Technological and political leadership has been an important goal for NASA over the last fifty years. Particularly during the early days of space exploration, international competition between the Soviet and U.S. space programs spurred manned and unmanned missions, with each country achieving important milestones in space exploration. Now, the Bush Administrationís call on NASA to pursue novel and unique capabilities to send manned missions to the Moon and Mars reflects a dedication to space leadership as a tool of international politics.

NASA explicitly defends the inclusion of manned missions to the Moon and Mars in terms of leadership saying in a recent budget document, [PDF] ď[Humans] will also serve as a potent symbol of American democracy, a reminder of what the human spirit can achieve in a free society.Ē The Administrationís rhetoric of exploration supports a view of space as ground for proving new capabilities and enhancing the perceived power of the U.S. at home and abroad.

The U.S. faces growing anti-Americanism in some parts of the world, and as the NASA quote above shows, some believe that manned exploration accomplishments can contribute to bolstering the image of the U.S. abroad. Much as Apollo purported to demonstrate U.S. military superiority over the U.S.S.R. in the cold war, some suggest a new lunar program would demonstrate the cultural superiority of the U.S.

But, will a manned mission to the Moon or Mars really convince rival nations to accept U.S. policy positions?

The U.S. no longer faces competition from a peer rival and the other nations with space capabilities remain allies. In fact, NASA has recently pursued a variety of cooperative missions with international partners, ranging from data sharing on U.S. built craft to cooperative development of mission plans and hardware. The International Space Station now includes major partners from 16 countries, including Japan, Russia, and the E.U. Cooperation with Russia on the ISS program has proved critical to keeping the station supplied and in orbit after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. And cost sharing has reduced the cost of the ISS to the U.S. significantly, as partner nations have provided over a quarter of the station components.

The U.S. now has an opportunity to learn from these successes while framing a new Moon/Mars initiative. Using the successful cooperative models of ISS and science missions such as SOHO and Cassini-Huygens, NASA could direct a combined international effort to explore space. A cooperative program would yield greater benefits than a unilateral attempt by demonstrating a U.S. commitment to the concerns of international partners and lesson perceptions of an American hegemony.

Internationalizing NASA's "Vision for Space Exploration" also has the potential to engage the Chinese space program which has also announced a manned mission to the Moon, avoiding a costly and unnecessary repeat of a lunar space race.

An international effort also makes sense from a cost and data sharing perspective. Cooperation has allowed nations to pursue projects that they could not afford individually, increased access to space assets and data, and contributed to international diplomacy. Increasing international involvement in the Vision could benefit the policy as a whole, and should be considered now during initial development. For leadership in space to have tangible benefits back home, the U.S. must strive for more than building the biggest rockets.

Posted on May 2, 2005 05:38 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

March 03, 2005

Senate Reorganizes

A few weeks ago I wrote about the reorganization of the House Appropriations Committee. This week, the Senate announced changes as well. In general, the Senate side mirrors the House changes. VA/HUD has been disbanded and its jurisdiction spread across the remaining subcommittees.

Of the main science agencies, NASA, NSF, and DoC science are found in Commerce and Science, EPA is now in Interior, and NIH remains in Labor/HHS subcommittee.

A few differences do exist. The Senate choose to keep the DC and Legislative Branch subcommittees and made no changes to Defense. More importantly, the Senate has placed the State Department in Foreign Ops, while the House keeps State with Commerce, Science, and Justice. State was appropriated $8.5 billion last year. This difference may cause some problems when the House and Senate reconcile spending bills, as the Commerce, Science, etc. and Foreign Ops subcommittees now overlap between the two chambers. Overall, however, the changes are similar enough so that the overall appropriations process won't be threatened.

As for the particular affect on science funding, my comments from last time haven't changed.

A full list of the new structure follows:

House Subcommittee Chair Senate Subcommittee Chair
Agriculture Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies Senator Bennett
Science, State, Justice and Commerce Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) Commerce, Justice, and Science Senator Shelby
Defense Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) Defense Senator Stevens
Energy and Water Rep. David Hobson (R-OH) Energy and Water Senator Domenici
Foreign Operations Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Senator McConnell
Interior and Environment Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) Interior and Related Agencies Senator Burns
Homeland Security Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) Homeland Security Senator Gregg
Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Senator Specter
Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Senator Hutchison
Transportation, Treasury and Housing Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary, and Housing and Urban Development Senator Bond
Legislative Branch Senator Brownback
District of Columbia Senator DeWine

February 17, 2005

House Juggles Science Spending

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a plan put forward by Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) that makes major changes to the House budget process. Under the new plan, the House has rearranged the jurisdictions of its subcommittees, consolidating 13 subcommittees to 10. Among the changes, a large portion of federal science funding now falls under one subcommittee: Science, State, Justice, and Commerce.

This subcommittee will oversee science appropriations for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and NIST. Defense, NIH, and Department of Energy science funding remain separate.

Using AAAS estimates of the President's FY 2006 budget, the new subcommittee will oversee approximately 30% of $57.1 billion in non-defense R&D funding. NIH and DoE make up most of the remainder with 49% and 15% respectively.

The new subcommittee will oversee a total budget of over $55 billion. A look at last year's funding shows appropriations of $20.4 billion for Justice, $8.5 billion for State, and $6.9 billion for Commerce. NASA and NSF contribute another $22 billion.

This reorganization frees NASA and the NSF from their former home in the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies subcommittee. Instead of the VA and HUD, these agencies will now compete for funding with groups such as the FBI, DEA, and State Department. The Department of Commerce labs, which AAAS estimates will fund about $1 billion in R&D in FY 2006, will now compete directly with the much larger budgets of NASA and NSF.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Senate members "want changes kept to a minimum" bringing up the possibility that the Senate will keep the previous 13 subcommittees. Asymmetrical appropriations bills could cause havoc come October as the House and Senate try to reconcile their spending bills. The Post also reports that the Senate is not likely to make a final decision until after the President's Day recess.

The ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey (D-WI) has responded to the changes saying, the proposal "is not aimed at improving efficiency. It is simply payback" for Majority Leader Tom Delay to boost spending on NASA.

A reorganization of this magnitude will have effects on a number of areas, not just science. But from the narrow perspective of science funding, the changes appear to generally reduce downward pressure on R&D budgets. Whether or not the changes lead to better R&D outcomes is an entirely different question.

December 13, 2004

O'Keefe to Leave NASA

A number of papers reported the impending resignation of Sean O'Keefe from NASA this weekend.

His resignation comes on the heels of a difficult week, with the release of a NRC report advocating a shuttle mission to Hubble and a study reporting costs of $2 billion for a robotic Hubble servicing. Roger has discussed the NRC report here on Prometheus. Unlike the NRC, the second study by the Aerospace Corporation includes a number of alternatives for Hubble, including a robotic mission, deorbit and use of instruments on another telescope, and a manned mission. The full-report is not available online, but if it does appear I'll be sure to post it here.

Mr. O'Keefe has been steadfast in his determination that no shuttle mission to Hubble should be flown, saying in June,

"Some have observed that this analysis is flawed. This might well be, but it is the analysis I've conducted and the judgment I've reached based on a very close, regular review of the Return to Flight challenges currently underway. Others may reach a different conclusion and harbor a different opinion, but none who have offered opposing views will be responsible for the outcome."

This suggests that the new Adminstrator may, in fact, reach a different conclusion. Reports suggest Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish as a likely successor.

Administrator O'Keefe will certainly be remembered for his role in the Hubble debate. In addition, his watch has included the destruction of Columbia and Return to Flight, a large increase in the NASA space science and manned budget, and a new committment to send humans to the Moon and Mars. What are your comments on O'Keefe's departure?

Posted on December 13, 2004 12:07 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

November 30, 2004

Budget Woes for NASA

One might wonder what woes an agency with a $16.2 billion dollar budget and $800 million increase from last year might have. Well for starters, NASA has $4.3 billion slated for shuttle return to flight, solely to finish construction of the International Space Station. Station is taking up another $1.8 billion this year, and a Hubble rescue mission, robotic or not, may take up to $2 billion more. That's half the budget before even thinking about the President's vision for the Moon and Mars. Most of this effort is going into completing 20 years of pyramid building in space; to complete an orbital platform with no clear mission, enormous costs, and uncertain scientific worth. Given NASA's history of cost overruns, how can we justify spending most of the budget on programs with small returns and big cost uncertainties?

Posted on November 30, 2004 12:31 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

October 05, 2004

Ethics and the Anti-Matter Bomb

Keary Davidson writes in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle about US Air Force research into using anti-matter for a wide array of weapons, engines, and power sources. The research is a long, long way from deploying any new technology, but still raises many questions fundamental to science policy. The dawn of the nuclear age brought the ethics of scientific advancement to public attention, a debate that continues today in the nuclear and bio-tech industries. Will society develop any technology available to them, or can effective brakes be placed on research? If so would we even want to slow technological progress? These basic philisophic questions appear in much STS literature, from Jacques Ellul's 1964 book The Technological Society to Francis Fukuyama's 2002 book Our Postmodern Future, but don't often appear in science policy debates. Yet how we answer these questions greatly affects the scope and design of basic science policy efforts. Should the research related to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons be kept secret? Should policy try to contain stem-cell research? How can we minimize unintended consequences?

Posted on October 5, 2004 09:34 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Science Policy: General

September 29, 2004

This Rise of Commercial Space

Scaled Composits has met an important milestone today, successfully reaching an altitude of 100km. A second attempt set for October 4th will give the team a chance to win the $10 million dollar Ansari X Prize.

Meanwhile, this week saw Scaled Composits and Virgin enter a commercial development agreement, under the moniker Virgin Galactic. Book your sub-orbital commercial flight now; snacks will probably not be served, and Apollo 13 will not be shown in-flight.

At the same time, NASA is recovering from damage at the Kennedy Space Center from Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. The large Vehicle Assembly Building took damage, but the remaining orbiter fleet was unscathed.

Posted on September 29, 2004 10:00 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

September 08, 2004

Francis Hits the Cape

The giant Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral took serious damage over the weekend from Hurricane Frances. The New York Times and reported the hanger sustained damage to its walls and roof, raising the possibility of costly repairs and a delay to return to flight for the shuttle. 52,000 square feet of exterior tiles were blown off the walls of the hanger, while an inspection team is still determining the extent of damage to the roof. The hanger houses the orbiter, tank, and boosters for much of the pre-flight preparation. Damage also occured to the Cape Canaveral manufacturing facility for thermal tiles, though NASA officials suggest a seperate plant in California could produce the critical tiles. Meanwhile, the hurricane season continues with Hurricane Ivan.

Posted on September 8, 2004 12:06 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

August 10, 2004

Designing the Electric Grid

Matthew Wald writes in today's Science Times that last August's blackout "spread so quickly that day largely because hundreds of components acted exactly as they had been programmed to do."

Meaning the nation's largest blackout was an unintended consequence, and a sobering reminder of the difficulties decision-makers face as science and technology become more powerful and complex. In this case, relays designed to protect electrical equiptment in the event of damaging currents tripped domino-like shutting down transmission and generation facilities. Not exactly a graceful failure, but not a catestrophic one either.

Anyone interested in more should check out the Kennedy School's Electricity Policy Group's site detailing information and analysis on the event.

Posted on August 10, 2004 11:07 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Energy Policy

July 19, 2004

NASA Nixes TRMM Extension

Back in May, Roger noted some similarities between the situations of Hubble and the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) in determining how risk, cost, and scientific value balance out. Today, Guy Gugliotta, in the Washington Post reports a NASA decision to perform a controlled de-orbit of TRMM, thus dashing hopes of significantly extending the satellite's mission. And the similarities are growing as, like Hubble's case, the scientific community has vociferously attacked the decision.

Among the charges lies a suggestion that the cancellation of Hubble and TRMM serve as cost saving measures to support President Bush's space initiative to the moon and Mars. That arguement has never rung true to me. To begin, in the TRMM case, Mr. Gugliotta reports:

"[Ghassem] Asrar [NASA's associate administrator for earth science] said it was "absolutely incorrect" that NASA decided to begin the de-orbit now to save money for the Bush initiative, noting that "we started looking at this issue two years ago," long before the moon-Mars plan arose."

In the case of Hubble, Administrator O'Keefe has stated several times that he personally made the decision to cancel SM4 on the grounds of risk alone.

And more to the point, a savings of up to $37 million for TRMM doesn't make much of a dent in the $12 billion over the next five years President Bush has proposed. Hubble does, however, have a larger footprint, with operating costs running at $250 million per year, and the cost of the servicing mission itself running at about $140 million (SM3A). But even this larger amount occurs early in the Initiative before any serious moon or Mars missions begin and at the end of construction of ISS.

This arguement just doesn't do enough work to wholly explain these cancellations. However, the cost savings critique is just one of manyand both decisions remain open to a number of different and probably more convincing arguements.

Posted on July 19, 2004 12:28 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

July 02, 2004

Risk and Space Flight

Of the many news accounts of Cassini's arrival at Saturn, few have mentioned the controversy that surrounded its launch. The mission, launched in 1997, engendered protests and concern from some. The crux of the problem was Cassini's plutonium containing radio thermal generator, and fears that an accident at launch or flyby could release the plutonium. NASA went to great lengths to communicate their commitment to safely launching and flying the mission, overcoming a lawsuit in the process.

The same battle of space nuclear power looms on the horizon with Project Prometheus and the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. The project hopes to design and use a new generation of RTGs and nuclear reactors. Moving this project forward will depend on communicating and debating risk and uncertainty.

A similar debate is also ongoing for the future of the space shuttle, a manned flight to Mars, the Hubble servicing mission, and commercial space flight. Indeed, much of NASA's work contains small but significant factors of risk and uncertainty, factors that greatly complicate the agency's ability to gather support for and maintain initiatives.

Successfully describing and supporting thier risk assessments will be a critical challenge to the agency, and will require sensitivity to the subjective nature of risk tolerance and the value judgements that underlie arguments for and against particular missions. Technical and scientific data will play an important role, but cannot alone overcome value based objections.

July 01, 2004

Science, Art, and Safety

For the past several weeks a Buffalo grand jury has been investigating the bio-artist Steven Kurtz, and in the end, as reported in the NY Times, indicted him on 4 counts of mail and wire fraud for illegally obtaining samples and equipment.

Is this a case of bio-terrorism concerns pushing a case further than needed? Kurtz is a well-known artist and professor, who's legitimate use of biological samples and equipment seems clear. However, how should authorities react upon finding a working lab within a suburban home?

After following the case for a couple weeks now, I'm surprised at the indictments and somewhat surprised that the case made it to a grand jury at all. An investigation was clearly in order, though the amount of effort put into this one seems a waste of time and money. Regardless, the story is sure to continue and spark debate on the appropriate use of science in art and society and what biosafety is all about (see today's post).

Posted on July 1, 2004 09:50 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Biotechnology

June 14, 2004

Koshland Science Museum

While in DC, I visited NAS's Koshland Science Museum, a new(ish) science museum for the older crowd, and gentle plug for the work of the Academies. Their current exhibits focus on climate change and DNA, and I think do an ok job of presenting a basic, skin-deep understanding of some of the science in those fields. Unfortunately, I can't really tell what the take home message is, except maybe an unsurprising "science is great" spirit. The exhibits seem to skip any hint of values conflicts or political problems, suggesting that DNA testing catches bad guys and not mentioning the possibility of cancelled insurance policies... Not that I'd really expect the NAS to market potential problems, but I do wonder how much the museum can really contribute.

Posted on June 14, 2004 03:02 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Hodge Podge

June 09, 2004

Paying for Pills has a fascinating story by Matthew Herper on the spiraling costs of cancer drugs.

"After helping to develop some of the hottest new biotech drugs, Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer doctor Leonard Saltz has come down with a bad case of sticker shock. The price tag for treating patients has increased 500-fold in the last decade."

While discussing a number of specifc drugs and costs, the article does not mention the growing number of Americans without health insurance, a factor which greatly compounds the problem of drug costs. Nor does it discuss lagging health indicators in the US despite massive expenditures.

Can the US continue today's de facto rationing of health services to wealthy customers, or will the health sciences, pharmaceuticals, and government act to foster a more equitable system?

Posted on June 9, 2004 05:11 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Health

June 07, 2004

The Science Policy of Bill Joy

This weekend's New York Times Magazine includes a story by Jon Gertner visiting with Bill Joy. From grey goo to bird flu, it's all in here.

Like him or not, Joy is on the forefront of several important science policy questions.
- Should, or even can, limits be placed on where we take science?
- What roles should scientists, busnesses, trade associations, and government have in preventing "bad outcomes"?

Here are some quotes of interest...

"Making us think about potential ''bad outcomes'' is his goal; scaring the hell out of us is not."

" 'The Greeks knew better,' Joy says. 'Oedipus was destroyed by truth. He looked like he had a happy life until he learned one too many things. That's the cautionary tale.' "

"He's not exactly optimistic, predicting that public awareness will most likely come only after an actual accident at a company or a university. Until then, he says, speed -- the mad rush for patents and market share and money -- will trump caution. Regulatory agencies are structured to catch shady C.F.O.'s, not reckless private-sector technologists. And markets are ill equipped to play traffic cop. 'Markets are extremely good at go,' Joy says. 'They're not very good at stop. And I think we need a little bit of stop right now. Or else we're not going to like the outcome.'"

"He is likewise sure that the financial markets do not acknowledge the true hazards of certain kinds of science. To Joy this is a hugely important point. He isn't keen on regulation, since he considers it far less effective than market forces. (A millionaire many times over from his shares in Sun and other tech start-ups, Joy knows the fruits of the market firsthand.) Yet he does think we now need to ''manage'' the system somewhat. He says he believes that businesses doing research in areas deemed risky by their peers should be forced to take out insurance against catastrophes. He also says that science guilds should have the authority to limit access to potentially dangerous ideas."

June 02, 2004

O'Keefe Sticks to His Guns: No Shuttle Mission to Hubble

In a speech yesterday, NASA Administrator O'Keefe stood by his much criticized decision to cancel Hubble Servicing Mission 4, saying, "it would not be responsible to prepare for a servicing mission, only to find that the required actions identified by the [Columbia Accident Investigation] Board could not be implemented."

While news accounts (and his audience) have struck on his partial support for a robotic servicing mission, as O'Keefe announced a forthcoming Request for Proposals following up on a February request, O'Keefe also gave one of his most rigorous defenses yet of his decision to cancel SM4, saying in part,

"A mission to the Hubble would require the development of a unique set of procedures, technologies and tools different from any other mission we'll fly before the Shuttle fleet retires. Many of these capabilities which provide safety redundancy for ISS missions are primary or singular for a Hubble mission. Moreover, these Hubble unique methods must be developed and tested promptly before Hubble's batteries and other critical systems give out.

We are making steady progress in our efforts to meet the safety requirements for the Shuttle return to flight next year. But based on where we are today, prospects are even more challenging than six months ago for our being able to develop in time all required safety and return-to-flight elements for a servicing mission before Hubble ceases to be operational."

The whole of O'Keefe's speech is here.

In addition to this speech, O'Keefe has made a case for his decision here, here, and here, all based on the CAIB recommendations and his concern for human life. Meanwhile, critics of his decision have continually suggested that Hubble is too important to science to lose, thus setting up an age-old conflict of the relative importance of manned flight and science at NASA. Is this another example of the Excess of Objectivity that Prometheus has commented on elsewhere? Both sides continue to argue over the "facts" of mission risk and ignore the fundamental value conflict between the "Hubble Huggers" and Administrator O'Keefe.

May 03, 2004

International Competition

Monday's New York Times runs this article on reductions in patents, publications, and Nobels from within the US. Is science in trouble in the US? Or do these measures suggest that science is in better shape world-wide?

The clear and growing competition from overseas suggests that dominance in all fields of science is a public policy goal that needs to be questioned. As well as the belief that basic science funding will get us there, and bring in the patents to boot.

Another straw on the "linear model" camel's back.

Some quotes:
"Foreign advances in basic science now often rival or even exceed America's, apparently with little public awareness of the trend or its implications for jobs, industry, national security or the vigor of the nation's intellectual and cultural life."

"Analysts say comparative American declines are an inevitable result of rising standards of living around the globe."

"A major question, they add, is whether big spending automatically translates into big rewards, as it did in the past."

April 26, 2004

Science Feels Threatened by Bush Space Policy

A New York Times article suggests scientists and some politicians are nervous about science funding at NASA. Chairman of the House Science Committee Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) asks of President Bush's space exploration initiative, "Will funding this initiative rather than other programs move science forward or hold it back?" The article quotes a number of physicists and astronomers worried about exploration trumping 'good' science at the agency.

The decision to cancel Servicing Mission 4 to Hubble has stirred up a hornets nest of criticism of NASA in the science community. Yet NASA budgets for space science continue to show healthly growth. (See our category on R&D fudning.) The science camp worries that exploration will short change their research goals, while the human flight camp strives to regain the lost luster of the early manned flight program.

President Bush's focus on exploration has exacerbated the tension between these tribes, and the cancellation of SM4 has sent the science community into a panic. However, US space policy, and NASA in particular, would benefit if these two tribes could focus more on cooperation than turf battles. Science and exploration can go hand in hand, but by crying foul the scientific community may forgo an opportunity to garner real scientific gains from a growing, robust program of exploration.

Posted on April 26, 2004 05:26 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Space Policy

April 23, 2004

Why Prometheus?

In creating this site I sought a name that would convey its basic purpose: addressing and commenting on the complex nature of science and technology decision-making. The name should, of course, also be catchy and maybe even fun. Hence, Prometheus became a weblog in addition to Greek god.

In Greek mythology Prometheus, which may be translated to "forethought", is closely linked with the cultural and technological development of mankind. The Library of Apollodoros states that Prometheus created man from water and earth (1.7.1). Furthermore, at the feast at Mekone, Prometheus tricks Zeus into taking the lesser share of sacrifice, leaving the best portion to man. As punishment for this subterfuge Zeus withholds fire from mankind, only to have Prometheus steal it and present it to mankind. I suggest that this widely known act represents a very early example of science and technology policy.

Prometheus, then, conjures the ideas of intellectual growth and progress that this site hopes to reflect. Yet, Hesiod's Theogony introduces Prometheus, the embodyment of science and technology, as "subtle and devious" (511)... for, like science and technology, Prometheus carries some negative consequences for mankind when, in retaliation for the theft of fire, Zeus unleashes evil on mankind through the creation of Pandora.

The Prometheus weblog, then, will tackle the benefits, risks, successes and failures of science and technology. Our pages will reflect the good and bad, and suggest science and technology policy for a modern day Prometheus.

The weblog will also steadfastly avoid eagles...

Posted on April 23, 2004 12:34 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Site News

April 09, 2004

Nanotechnology: Paving the Way for the Little Guy

by T.S. Ryen

The U.S. government must nurture and oversee the burgeoning field on nanotechnology.

Occasionally, scientific and technical discoveries open up vast new disciplines, and herald new inventions that fundamentally change our way of life. For instance, engines, planes, and computers have drastically changed our society in just the last few centuries and even decades. Now, scientists and engineers around the world work feverishly in a field that promises even greater transformations; nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology describes a range of products and procedures that utilize properties at miniscule sizes, less than 1/10th the diameter of a human hair or 100 nanometers. Working at this tiny scale, researchers can take advantage of unique and sometimes entirely unexpected properties to produce tremendous new products. Nanotechnology will produce materials built atom by atom that are vastly stronger and lighter than any in existence today. Doctors may create new drugs that seek out diseased cells. Nanotechnology has already arrived, in fact, in stain resistant Dockerís pants and new systems to purify water.

Much work remains however, and most nanotech products lie many years away, yet a nanotech future is imminent and we had better prepare. For along with the potential for economic gain and furthering U.S. prominence in science and engineering, nanotechnology brings risk as well. Just as cars have brought tremendous personal freedom to travel, yet kill over 40,000 people a year in the U.S.; nanotechnology will have costs as well. The novel properties that make nanotechnology so exciting are not benign, natureís laws do not play favorites. As pointed out in a recent New York Times article by Barneby Feder, toxicology studies of nanomaterials lag far behind the creation of new ones. Yet even materials like carbon, that seem innocuous, have proven exceptionally toxic in the form of tiny Ďnanotubesí through the risk of inhalation and suffocation. The health, environmental, and social effects of nanotechnology products are not known, and current practice will not discover harms before it is too late.

The federal government actively funds nanotechnology research. The National Nanotechnology Initiative was begun by President Clinton in 2000, and has funding billions of dollars in research and development efforts. Last week, Congress approved the 21st Century Nanotechnology Development Act, creating a permanent place for nanotechnology within federal science funding, and beginning to address the broader needs of nanotechnology through the National Nanotechnology Program. The bill provides for public input and monies for research into the ethical, legal, and environmental concerns, but does not go far enough.

Research alone will not help nanotechnology mature into a responsible industry. Through this act, the government will continue to fund research based on identifying and containing harms well below research and development activities. Even if this investment were greatly enhanced, there remains no mechanism for action if and when problems are found. Current efforts amount to watching what the kids are doing, but having no authority to act when you catch them misbehaving.

The industry needs a clear statement from the public and government on what precautions are needed while developing nanotechnology products. Lack of clarity has left companies and researchers guessing what measures they should take, creating a system ripe for abuse. The FDA, EPA, and other regulatory agencies should cooperate to take substantial steps to blaze a path to market for nanotechnology products. Straightforward guidelines will ensure that all nanotechnology research contains safeguards that appropriately contain risk, provide efficiency to new product production, and give the public confidence in this emerging market.

Nanotechnology includes real risks and great awards, but a single-minded obsession with either will only result in failure. Simple steps now can have profoundly positive effects on the long-term viability and success of nanotechnology. Itís time to give the little guy a hand.

Posted on April 9, 2004 07:37 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Nanotechnology

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Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Site News

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