SETI Dan Goldin: Stop Hugging the Hubble

Larry Klaes (
Wed, 09 Jun 1999 12:18:37 -0400

>Date: Tue, 08 Jun 1999 20:03:00 -0400 >From: JAY RESPLER <> >Organization: SkyViews Astronomy & Space information Web Site >X-Mailer: Mozilla 4.04 [en] (Win95; I) >To: >Subject: NEWS > >LIVES AND DEATHS OF THE STARS > Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope recorded > the cycle of stellar birth and death in this photograph of the > nebula NCC 3603. At upper right are small dark clouds, > known as Bok globules, from which stars hatch. Radiation > from hatching stars carves away the surrounding gas into > pillars like the ones in the lower right. At center a cluster of > new stars have burned a hole in the nebula. Nearby, an > aging star surrounded by a ring ejects chemically enriched > material (gray blobs) into space to serve as the seeds for a > new generation. >------------------------------------------------ >A DUSTY HOUSE OF STARS > Blinking stars called Cepheid variables that are scattered > among the dusty arms of the galaxy NGC 4414 served as > signposts in attempts to measure the size of the universe. > The galaxy's center contains primarily older, yellow and > red stars, while its spiral arms are spotted with younger, > bluer stars, and lacy dust clouds. >-------------------------------------------------- > > > June 8, 1999 > > > Astronomers Urged to Follow Their Stars > > > Related Articles > New Measurement Suggests Universe Is Younger Than Believed (June 2) > Politics Keep an Earth-Viewing Satellite Earthbound (June 1) > Hubble Telescope Yields Data for Recalculating Age of Universe (May 26) > Hubble's Infrared Picture Show: How Stars Are Born (March 30) > A New Baby Picture Of the Southern Sky (Nov. 24, 1998) > > Forum > Join a Discussion on Black Holes and the Universe > > > By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD > > CHICAGO -- The head of the National Aeronautics and Space > Administration has a message for the country's astronomers: stop hugging > the Hubble Space Telescope. > > Daniel S. Goldin, the NASA Administrator, certainly meant no disrespect for the > orbiting telescope, regarded by many as the most successful space project of the > decade. Its spectacular pictures and revealing data from the depths of the universe > have stretched the dimensions of wonder for scientists and the public alike. And it > is still going strong. > > Instead, in a speech on June 3 to a > national meeting of the American > Astronomical Society here, Mr. > Goldin was exhorting scientists to > think expansively and identify new > technologies for spacecraft and > telescopes needed for > understanding more about the > composition, evolution, structure > and origin of the universe. He > called on them to recommend > "visionary goals that will resonate, > that will excite, that will carry > humanity far, far into the future." > > While he made no specific > proposals or immediate promises > of increased spending, Mr. Goldin > offered some ideas to illustrate the > scope of thinking he had in mind. > He challenged scientists to > conceive of new techniques to > search for life on Earthlike planets > around other stars and durable, low-cost propulsion systems capable of sending > robots there. He imagined robots the size of soft-drink cans with software systems > mimicking biological processes, which would be able to adapt to and deal with > unanticipated problems and thus evolve into "intelligent interstellar probes." > > Mr. Goldin also spoke of deploying into deep space "gossamer telescopes" with > mirrors several hundred feet wide (Hubble's is less than eight feet) and arrays of > widely separated telescopes capable of coordinated observations for even sharper > images of the cosmos. Other space probes might be able to measure gravitational > radiation from the first microseconds of the universe's creation in the theorized Big > Bang. One might even be sent to hover over and obtain direct images of the > consuming gravitational forces at regions known as black holes. > > The audience of senior astronomers as well as graduate students just starting their > careers broke into laughter when Mr. Goldin, driving home his anticomplacency > message, said, "Too many of you are hugging the Hubble Space Telescope." > > It was the knowing laughter that comes from hearing a truth exposed. Because of > years of budget constraints, astronomers said later, those in the field had stopped > dreaming and were clinging to what they had, dwelling on ways to keep the > Hubble operating longer or developing a larger version, called the Next Generation > Space Telescope, for launching in the next decade. The Hubble, deployed in 1991, > was designed to have a 15-year lifetime. > > "He's telling us it's O.K. to dream again," said Dr. Michael S. Turner, a University > of Chicago astrophysicist. > > Some astronomers expressed > skepticism. Where's the money? > How can we dream if we do not > have something now to live on > and work with? Where are specific > plans or new institutional > frameworks for transforming > dreams into reality? > > Such reservations might have > been more widespread if the call to > dream again had come from > anyone other than Mr. Goldin. > Since he became NASA > Administrator in 1992, he has > shaken and stirred the agency > more than any previous leader in > the period after the Apollo > lunar-landing project of the 1960's. > > Dr. Robert Gehrz of the University of Minnesota, the president of the astronomical > society, said Mr. Goldin "has been widely praised" for reviving and streamlining > the planetary exploration program and then establishing a new effort, called the > Origins Program, bringing together biologists, astronomers and planetary > scientists to study the newly discovered extrasolar planetary systems for evidence > of life. > > To save a moribund planetary program, Mr. Goldin introduced a new design > philosophy of "faster, cheaper, better" missions, replacing the past reliance on > expensive, multi-purpose spacecraft. These missions took years to get off the > ground, and a single failure often left scientists with nothing. Under the new > program, modest Mars expeditions are setting forth every two years in a sustained > program leading to a return of Mars rocks in the middle of the next decade. > > Three years ago at another astronomy meeting, as observers were detecting the > first planets around other stars, Mr. Goldin announced his vision for the Origins > program. > > "At the time, we didn't have a nickel in the budget for Origins, just a vision that we > might someday be able to search for life on other planets," Mr. Goldin reminded a > group of scientists in another speech 10 days earlier. "Now Origins is funded at $1 > billion over five years. It happened because the scientific community came to > consensus, embraced a vision and pressed ahead with it." > > Asked why astronomers should take his new challenge seriously, Mr. Goldin > replied, "I've delivered every time I've pushed the boundary." > > Mr. Goldin's speech came at an opportune time because, under the auspices of the > National Academy of Sciences, astronomers are conducting a broad review of > research goals and priorities for the next decade. The study, to be completed by > the end of the year, is headed by Dr. Christopher McKee of the University of > California at Berkeley. > > Mr. Goldin conceded that NASA would not be able to count on an expanding > budget to pay for new undertakings. Its annual budget is $14 billion and not likely > to be increased much in coming years. Indeed, its budget is continually under > pressure from cost-cutting Congresses. Of that amount, $2.2 billion is spent on > space sciences, with most of the balance going to human flight programs like the > space shuttle and the International Space Station, now being assembled in Earth > orbit. > > But Mr. Goldin said in the interview that he hoped to increase space science's > budget share. He is also holding discussions with leaders of the National Science > Foundation and the Energy Department to undertake more joint and coordinated > research efforts, especially those combining particle physics and astrophysics to > explore primal mysteries of cosmic origins and evolution. > > Just as he enforced a new design philosophy for planetary missions, Mr. Goldin > said the space agency should reverse its approach to all astronomy programs. In > most cases, he said, the practice has been to plan a mission and then develop the > necessary instruments to carry it out. > > In his speech, the NASA leader recommended that, instead, the agency should > support research on "a continuing line of cutting-edge technology" in imaging > systems, spectrographs for examining light from space objects, lightweight > telescope mirrors, innovative robotics and new, less expensive propulsion > systems. Then missions should be launched as soon as the technology is ready, > and no later. "We cannot suffer from the 'ready-aim-aim' syndrome, which we've > seen too much of," Mr. Goldin told the astronomers. > > With this approach of "just-in-time" technology, Mr. Goldin said, the new > emphasis will be on "fast turnaround times of only a couple of years and costs of > just a few million dollars" for new missions involving new exploring techniques. > By then, sometime well into the next decade, he said it would be time to send the > Hubble and other old observatories "into well-deserved retirement." > > Astronomers "hold tight to older technologies because we are comfortable with > them," he said, but they "consume a great deal of money for maintenance and > updating, preventing us from developing and launching new and improved > systems." Then he warned, "We cannot continue on this path." > > Listening to Mr. Goldin talk, Dr. Turner of Chicago whispered to the person in the > next seat, "He's a street-smart dreamer." > > Related Sites > These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over their > content or availability. > > Space Telescope Science Institute. > > NASA. > Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company >======================================== > > > June 8, 1999 > > John Paul, at Home in Polish Academia, Defends > Copernicus > > By ALESSANDRA STANLEY > > TORUN, Poland -- In 1543, the Polish astronomer Copernicus sent his > revolutionary thesis on the movement of the planets to Rome with a > poignant letter seeking understanding from Pope Paul III. He never received > a reply. > > Pope John Paul II, a former philosophy professor, gave an answer Monday all too > familiar to academics. He replied, in essence, read my book. > > "As I wrote in the encyclical Fides et Ratio" (Faith and Reason), the pope told a > thousand Polish academics and scientists gathered in a lecture hall at Copernicus > University here, "deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, > and so runs the risk of no longer being a universal proposition." > > The pope used his most recent encyclical to defend Copernicus, who was born in > Torun and whose "On the Movement of Heavenly Bodies" was denounced by the > Vatican in 1616 and removed from the Vatican's index of forbidden books only in > 1822. > >-- >Jay Respler >-- > >Sky Views: > Satellite Tracker * Early Typewriter Collector > Freehold, New Jersey > > > >

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