CCNet, 66/2000 -  8 June 2000

     "NASA's achievement is like Napoleon declaring victory
     when his troops were assembled before the battle of Waterloo."
         -- F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman,
            U.S. House Science Committee

     "The shape of Kleopatra remains a mystery for the time being.
     If it tells us anything, it's that we still have much to learn
     about asteroid origins and collisions. We can expect nothing
     less than the unexpected as more members of the asteroid zoo are
     unveiled in the coming years."
        -- Duncan Steel, 8 June 2000

     "How do you study sex? You can't really observe it in the way
     an astronomer tracks the movement of planets."
          -- New Scientist, 10 June 2000

    The Guardian, 8 June 2000

    Larry Klaes <>

    Larry Klaes <>

    SpaceDaily, 7 June 2000

    C. Blanco et al., *)UNIVERSITY OF CATANIA


    A. Rossi et al., CNR,IST CNUCE,AREA RIC PISA

    Bob Kobres <>

    Larry Klaes <>


From The Guardian, 8 June 2000,3605,329559,00.html

Duncan Steel looks at an astronomical anomaly among the asteroids

Thursday June 8, 2000

Astronomers often speak of the cosmic zoo, reflecting the exotic variety
of phenomena to be seen in the deep space. Pulsars, colliding galaxies
and superluminous quasars are just a few of the bizarre images their
telescopes pick up. But right here in the solar system, we still have a
few surprises in store. Such as an asteroid shaped like a dog's bone.
Cartoonists tend to draw asteroids as rocky spheres pockmarked by
craters. They're halfway correct. Asteroids not only slam into the moon
and planets producing craters, but they're also holed themselves by
smaller projectiles.

But spherical? Only the very largest asteroids - bigger than a couple of
hundred miles across - have sufficient gravity to pull themselves into a
completely rounded shape. Smaller bodies are expected to be irregular in
profile. But just how irregular?

Our vantage point is so far from the main belt between Mars and Jupiter
that only the largest asteroids can be resolved. Using the Hubble Space
Telescope, we find that the behemoths such as Ceres (at 600 miles
diameter the largest asteroid), Pallas and Vesta are close to being 7938
6285 spherical, but we know little about the smaller rocks.

While on its trip to Jupiter Nasa's Galileo spacecraft returned close-up
photos of Gaspra and Ida, showing these to be angular and elongated,
like pebbles. No surprises there. Similarly, since the NEAR-Shoemaker
space probe entered orbit around asteroid Eros in February, it has sent
back vivid photographs of that body indicating the anticipated rounded
but non-spherical shape, scattered with craters.

Another way of profiling an asteroid's shape is to use radar. Over the
past few years Nasa researchers led by Steve Ostro at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in California have taken the briefly available opportunities
to get radar bounces from various small asteroids whizzing close by the
Earth, revealing the expected rocky shapes. Some look like peanuts, some
like potatoes, others like footballs in need of a pumping up.

But the huge numbers of asteroids in the main belt, more than 100
million miles away, were too distant, out of the range of their radar
equipment. Too far away, that is, until the recent multi- million dollar
upgrade of the vast radar located at Arecibo in Puerto Rico was
completed, funded by the US National Science Foundation. This has
dramatically improved its sensitivity, making observations of more
distant objects feasible.

The Arecibo radar employs a dish 1,000 feet across, fixed in place in a
natural bowl-shaped valley to the north of the island. It is not
steerable in the way that most radio telescopes, such as that at Jodrell
Bank, can be directed to any point in the sky. So astronomers using
Arecibo need to choose targets that happen to pass overhead during their
observation runs.

The first main belt asteroid to be selected was Kleopatra. This object,
discovered in 1880, was not thought to be remarkable in any way. It was
just a suitably located target on which to test the new radar system.
Data from optical telescopes indicated a size of about 100 miles, and
its colour indicated a metallic composition. Because metals are good
reflectors of radio waves, a strong echo seemed likely.

This was a complicated experiment. Kleopatra was so far away - further
away than the sun from the earth - it took the radar pulse 19 minutes to
make the round trip. A strong echo was obtained, but it varied in a way
which initially perplexed the astronomers. As more data were collected,
it became possible to build up a picture of the overall shape of the
asteroid. It looks somewhat like a dumb-bell, 135 miles long and 58
miles wide. "With its dog bone shape, Kleopatra has the most unusual
shape we've seen in the solar system," commented Ostro.

The best guess is that the surprising shape may be the result of some
phenomenal inter-asteroid collision many aeons ago. The lumps thrown off
at high speed in that collision may then have made their way to our
planet, some of them ending up in museum collections of meteorites. Many
meteorites have nickel-iron compositions similar to the presumed make-up
of Kleopatra, making it a candidate parent body for at least some of
these samples. So maybe we've got some of the meat off the dog's bone
available for study in our laboratories.

Alternatively, rather than Kleopatra originally having been more
rounded, and disfigured by a cataclysmic collision, perhaps it gradually
accumulated debris to attain this form.

Another member of the team, Scott Hudson of Washington State University,
suggests that the asteroid "may once have been two separate lobes in
orbit around each other with empty space between, subsequent impacts
filling in the area between the lobes with debris." This idea has appeal
because the radar echoes also indicate Kleopatra to be somewhat porous,
rather than one solid lump of metal.

The shape of Kleopatra remains a mystery for the time being. If it tells
us anything, it's that we still have much to learn about asteroid
origins and collisions. We can expect nothing less than the unexpected
as more members of the asteroid zoo are unveiled in the coming years.

* Duncan Steel researches asteroids and comets at the University of

Copyright 2000, The Guradian


From Larry Klaes <>

From ABC News, 7 June 2000
LONDON (Reuters) - Australian scientists said on Wednesday they had
discovered the fossil remains of micro-organisms in
3,235-million-year-old sulphur deposits usually formed by deep  sea
vents on the oceans' floor. 

The discovery by Birger Rasmussen, of the University of  Western
Australia in Nedlands, pushes back the existence of  known submarine
life by more than 2,700 million years. 

It also adds new evidence to the theory that life on Earth began in the
very dark, extremely hot deep-sea hydrothermal vents. 

"They represent the first fossil evidence of microbial life in a
Precambrian (about half a billion years ago) submarine  thermal spring
system, and extend the known range of submarine  hydrothermal biota by
more than 2,700 million years" Rasmussen  said in a letter to the
science journal Nature. 

"Such environments may have hosted the first living systems  on Earth."

How life began on the planet is a hotly contested issue among
scientists. Some claim it began near the surface bathed in  sunlight,
while others claim it all started near the deep  hydrothermal vents
where light cannot penetrate. 

Rasmussen thinks the thread-like fossils are microbes that inhabited
environments beneath the sea floor and lived at  temperatures near 100
degrees Centigrade (212 F) using inorganic  matter as an energy source.

"Although Rasmussen's work does not show that deep-water hydrothermal
life came before photosynthetic life, it does lend circumstantial
support to the argument that steps in the early  history of life took
place around hydrothermal systems," Euan  Nisbet, of the University of
London, said in a commentary in Nature.

Copyright ©2000 ABC News Internet Ventures


From Larry Klaes <>
NASA JSC Release J00-37

June 7, 2000
Ann Hutchison
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Release: J00-37


Like photo-hungry tourists, the astronauts and cosmonauts who spent
time on the Russian space station Mir took along cameras and lots of
film to record their observations. Their photographs are providing
important new insights into how nature and humans are changing planet

Some of these photographs will be published this month as part of a new
book of the results of imagery analysis in such areas as urban growth,
El Niño impacts, and changes in sea levels, coastal vegetation and land
use. A collaborative effort between NASA and Russian Aviation and Space
Agency Earth observation experts, Dynamic Earth Environments: New
Observations from Shuttle-Mir Missions will include 16 pages of color
photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on Mir between March 1996
and June 1998.

"One advantage of the long-duration program on Mir is that crews could
observe and record a continuum of changes on the Earth, including
changes from season to season," said Kamlesh Lulla, Ph.D., chief of the
Office of Earth Sciences at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

By observing and documenting surface dynamics and processes over time,
scientists can gain a better understanding of the forces - both natural
and human-induced - that change the Earth. Some of the 22,000
photographs taken by the Mir astronauts capture natural phenomena for
the first time, such as lakes in the Andes Mountains drying up.

"Our primary goal was to use photographs taken from space to document
environmental changes and dynamic Earth processes such as flooding,
droughts and urban growth around the world," Lulla added. Other areas of
interest included events related to short-lived phenomena such as
tropical storms, large fires and volcanic eruptions that otherwise might
have gone undocumented.

A second major objective was to use the experience gained during actual
space flight to develop approaches and tools for the next generation of
Earth observations from the International Space Station (ISS). "The
Shuttle-Mir missions served us well in preparing the NASA Earth sciences
program for long-duration scientific investigations from the ISS," Lulla

He cited a variety of benefits from the operational experience provided
by the Mir flights, including the development and testing of
interactive electronic training and reference software, an interactive
map, and evaluation of the long-term impact of on-orbit film reloading,
data recording and camera maintenance. "Most importantly," Lulla added,
"we learned to plan and communicate effectively from remote centers
with an international crew."

Astronauts Shannon Lucid, John Blaha, Jerry Linenger, Michael Foale,
David Wolf and Andrew Thomas, and their Russian crewmates, used
hand-held 35 mm and 70 mm cameras equipped with a variety of lenses.
They were able to record long-term and seasonal changes in agricultural
and other land-use patterns, changes in atmospheric conditions, and
ecological changes such as global deforestation.

"A key factor in the success of the Mir Earth observations research was
crew initiative," Lulla said. "Some of the best and most interesting
phenomena cannot be anticipated, but they can be documented by
well-trained astronaut observers."

Before each flight, scientists from various Earth science disciplines
trained the crewmembers in recognition of Earth features and processes.
Russian and American scientists then created a list of desired sites and
requested photography of the sites when conditions permitted. "A
relatively new focus of investigation was on the production of aerosols
such as dust, smog and smoke around the world," Lulla said. Such data
are becoming increasingly important in climate-change modeling, material
transport and land-use change. Other targets of interest were sites with
short-term natural dynamics, such as plankton blooms in oceans, as well
as active and rapidly changing volcanic regions.

The focus and extent of photography varied from crew to crew, Lulla
said. For example, Lucid and her Russian crewmates documented the
transition from winter to spring to summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
Foale and his colleagues on Mir recorded key atmospheric changes related
to the developing 1997 El Niño event, which formed an important baseline
for tracking the impact of El Niño during subsequent flights. Thomas
completed documentation of El Niño during the final U.S. flight on Mir.

Lulla said the book is aimed at a very broad audience, not just
researchers in the Earth science disciplines. "The photographs contain
valuable and easily understood information about regional occurrences
and duration of hard-to-measure events," Lulla said. "Students of the
Earth of all levels should find this book of value." The book should be
available at large booksellers and libraries, as well as through
academic bookstores.

Astronaut photographs of Earth certainly are not unusual. NASA's
collection, which dates from the early days of the American space
program nearly 40 years ago, numbers some 400,000 images. The images
taken during the Shuttle-Mir program have been added to the larger
database of photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts during
flights around the Earth and to the Moon.

"This imagery provides us with a global perspective on the rhythms and
spatial scale of important natural and human-induced events taking place
on the Earth's surface," Lulla said. "If the experiences of the
Shuttle-Mir crews are typical, Earth observations by crewmembers on the
International Space Station will greatly improve both our database and
our understanding of processes and changes on the Earth," he added.

In keeping with the international nature of the book, astronaut Frank
Culbertson and cosmonaut Valery Ryumin - managers of the Shuttle-Mir
program -- provided the foreword. The volume also has both an American
and a Russian editor. Editing duties were shared by Lulla and by Lev
Desinov, Ph.D., of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of
Sciences in Moscow. Associate editors were Cindy Evans, Julie Robinson
and Pat Dickerson, senior scientists in JSC's Office of Earth Sciences.

An on-line database of astronaut photographs from space is available at
the following Web sites: , , and


From SpaceDaily, 7 June 2000

World's First Ray Gun Shoots Down Missile

Redondo Beach - June 7, 2000 - TRW, the U.S. Army and the Israel 
Ministry of Defence (IMoD) have blazed a new trail in the history of
defensive warfare by using the Army's Tactical High Energy
Laser/Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (THEL/ACTD), the world's
first high-energy laser weapon system designed for operational use, to 
shoot down a rocket carrying a live warhead.
The successful intercept and destruction of a Katyusha rocket occurred
on June 6 at approximately 3:48 p.m. EDT at the Army's High Energy
Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF), White Sands Missile Range, New

The shoot-down was achieved during a high-power laser tracking test
conducted as part of the ongoing THEL/ACTD integration process.

"We've just turned science fiction into reality," said Lt. Gen. John
Costello, Commanding General, U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense

"This compelling demonstration of THEL's defensive capabilities proves
that directed energy weapon systems have the potential to play a
significant role in defending U.S. national security interests

"This shoot-down is an exciting and very important development for the
people of Israel," said Major General Dr. Isaac Ben-Israel, Director of
MAFAT, Israel Ministry of Defence.

"With this success, THEL/ACTD has taken the crucial first step to help
protect the communities along our northern border against the kind of
devastating rocket attacks we've suffered recently."

"The THEL/ACTD shoot-down is a watershed event for a truly
revolutionary weapon," said Tim Hannemann, executive vice president
and general manager, TRW Space & Electronics Group, the THEL/ACTD
system prime contractor.

"It also provides a very positive opportunity for our customers to
consider developing more mobile versions of THEL." Any future THEL
developments would benefit from continued testing and performance
evaluations of the THEL/ACTD's current subsystems, he added.

For this critical first test of THEL/ACTD's defensive capabilities, an
armed Katyusha rocket was fired from a rocket launcher placed at a site
in White Sands Missile Range.

Seconds later, the THEL/ACTD, located several miles away at HELSTF,
detected the launch with its fire control radar, tracked the streaking
rocket with its high precision pointer tracker system, then engaged the
rocket with its high- energy chemical laser.

Within seconds, the 10-foot-long, 5-inch-diameter rocket exploded.

According to Hannemann, the THEL/ACTD shoot-down represents significant
advancements in the maturity of engineering technologies used to design
and build deployable directed energy weapon systems.

"In February 1996, as part of the Nautilus laser test program, TRW, the
Army and the IMoD used the Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser
(MIRACL) and the SeaLite Beam Director installed at HELSTF to
intercept and destroy a Katyusha rocket," he said.

"Those tests established high-energy laser lethality against
short-range rocket threats, but we had to use a large facility-based
laser and beam control system to perform the test." By contrast, he
added, THEL/ACTD was designed and produced as a stand-alone defensive
weapon system.

Its primary subsystems have been packaged in several transportable,
semi-trailer-sized shipping containers, allowing it to be deployed to
other test or operational locations.

The U.S. currently has no weapon systems capable of protecting soldiers
or military assets involved in regional conflicts against short-range
rocket attacks.

Conventional missile-based defense systems, such as the Army's Theater
High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability -3
(PAC-3), are designed to defend against longer range threats such as
Scud missiles.

By comparison, tactical directed energy systems such as THEL/ACTD send
out "bullets" at the speed of light, allowing them to intercept and
destroy "last minute" or low-flying threats such as rockets, mortars or
cruise missiles on a very short timeline.

"It's pretty hard to run from a laser," said Hannemann.

The THEL/ACTD was designed, developed and produced by a TRW-led team of
U.S. and Israeli contractors for the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense
Command, Huntsville, Ala., and the Israel Ministry of Defence.

Requirements for the system have been driven in part by Israel, which
needs to protect civilians living in towns and communities along its
northern border against rocket attacks by terrorist guerrillas.

TRW has been engaged in laser research and development since the early
1960s. The company produces solid-state lasers for defense and
industrial applications, and designs and develops a variety of
high-energy chemical lasers for space, ground and airborne missile
defense applications.

Copyright 2000, SpaceDaily


C. Blanco*), M. DiMartino, D. Riccioli: New rotational periods of 18
asteroids. PLANETARY AND SPACE SCIENCE, 2000, Vol.48, No.4, pp.271-284


The results of photoelectric observations of 18 main-belt asteroids are
discussed. The V-band lightcurves, the B-V colors, and the values of
the synodic rotational period are presented. There exists no previous
determination of the period for 13 of them. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science
Ltd. All rights reserved.


R.P. Binzel: The Torino Impact Hazard Scale. PLANETARY AND SPACE
SCIENCE, 2000, Vol.48, No.4, pp.297-303


Newly discovered asteroids and comets have inherent uncertainties in
their orbit determinations owing to the natural limits of positional
measurement precision and the finite lengths of orbital arcs over which
determinations are made. For some objects makings predictable future
close approaches to the Earth, orbital uncertainties may be such that a
collision with the Earth cannot be ruled out. Careful and responsible
communication between astronomers and the public is required for
reporting these predictions and a 0.10 point hazard scale, reported
inseparably with the date of close encounter, is recommended as a
simple and efficient tool for this purpose. The goal of this scale,
endorsed as the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, is to place into context
the level of public concern that is warranted for any close encounter
event within the next century. Concomitant reporting of the close
encounter date further conveys the sense of urgency that is warranted.
The Torino Scale value for a close approach event is based upon both
collision probability and the estimated kinetic energy (collision
consequence), where the scale value can change as probability and
energy estimates are refined by further data. On the scale, Category 1
corresponds to collision probabilities that are comparable to the
current annual chance for any given size impactor. Categories 8-10
correspond to certain (probability >99%) collisions having increasingly
dire consequences. While close approaches falling Category 0 may be
no cause for noteworthy public concern, there remains a professional
responsibility to further refine orbital parameters for such objects
and a figure of merit is suggested for evaluating such objects. Because
impact predictions represent a multi-dimensional problem, there is no
unique or perfect translation into a one-dimensional system such as the
Torino Scale. These limitations are discussed. (C) 2000 Elsevier
Science Ltd. All rights reserved.


A. Rossi*), G.B. Valsecchi, P. Farinella: Collision risk for high
inclination satellite constellations. PLANETARY AND SPACE SCIENCE,
2000, Vol.48, No.4, pp.319-330


We assess the collision hazard for a constellation of telecommunication
satellites such as IRIDIUM, arising from the possible chance impact
break-up of one of the satellites. The resulting swarm of fragments
will orbit the Earth at about the same altitude as the surviving
satellites, but will gradually spread due to orbital perturbations, so
as to make possible impacts with satellites staying on orbital planes
different from that of the parent satellite. We find that at
intermediate fragment masses of the order of 1 kg, sufficient to
trigger subsequent catastrophic impacts, the self-generated collision
hazard for the constellation satellites exceeds the background level
due to the overall debris population for several years. This is true,
in particular, when differential precession of the orbits leads the
fragments to encounter satellites revolving around the Earth in the
opposite sense, resulting both in higher impact speeds and in enhanced
collision probabilities. We estimate that there is about a 10% chance
that a first-generation fragment will trigger subsequent disruptive
collisions in the constellation within a decade. (C) 2000 Elsevier
Science Ltd. All rights reserved.



From Bob Kobres <>

A plutonium opportunity? 

Excerpted from:

At their get-together on Sunday Putin and Clinton announced a landmark
agreement on destroying weapons-grade plutonium stocks. The two leaders
agreed that their countries each would dispose of 34 tons of
weapons-grade plutonium and provide early warnings of missile and space

The plutonium would be enough to build tens of thousands of nuclear
weapons. The deal calls for the "safe, transparent and irreversible
disposition" of the material. Details of the agreement had been worked
out in advance of the weekend meeting.

"This is the first, permanent U.S.-Russia military agreement ever,"
Clinton told a news conference with Putin. "It is a milestone in
enhancing strategic stability and I welcome it." [...]

The plutonium agreement was something of a consolation prize and
allowed Clinton to walk away from the summit's most substantive
meetings with a deal.

Although disposing of the plutonium will cost a total of $5.75 billion
- $4 billion in the United States and $1.75 billion in Russia - the
deal will eliminate the possibility of the material falling into the
wrong hands. Other countries will be asked to contribute to the
program's cost.

The Russian plutonium is to be converted for use in civilian nuclear
power reactors. Some of the U.S. material will be used for reactors,
and the rest will be buried.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will monitor the carrying out of
the agreement, which could take 20 years.

About 25 members of Greenpeace, some dressed in military garb,
protested outside the U.S. Embassy as Clinton's motorcade passed by.
The environmental group complained that the plutonium deal would cause
greater environmental damage because the material would be used in
nuclear reactors.

Six billion $mackers and 34 tons of plutonium could provide a good
start and justification for an international lunar base. A
storage/research/observatory facility located in a polar region of the
Moon would seem a safe and feasible goal over a twenty year period. 
This approach not only removes the biologically toxic plutonium from
our terrestrial environment, it also provides an ample store of already
in Space PHO-repellant when the need ultimately arises.


The times they do change, but on schedule?

The notion that glacial and interglacial periods have some intrinsic
length of duration is probably incorrect. Also, if conditions were so
starkly impoverished during the "Ice Age" then how'd them beaver get so

Below is an excellent collection of up-to-date info on this different
yet rich time. From:

Ice Age Peoples of North America: Environments, Origins, and
Adaptations of the First Americans, edited by Robson Bonnichsen and
Karen L. Turnmire. Oregon State University Press. 536 pages. Hardcover.

An up-to-date summary of important new discoveries from Northeast Asia
and North America that are changing perceptions about the origin of the
First Americans. The 19 papers collected here provide regional
archaeologcal syntheses and address such topics as ice marginal
dynamics, the impact of plant nutrients in glacial margins, and
periglacialecology of large mammals. 8-1/2-by-11-inch format with over
200 illustrations.


Toxic talk? 

Benny, jabs from the Right are no less apt to be bogus than rhetoric
from the Left. When people resort to name calling or lay psychoanalysis
it's a pretty good sign that objectivity is a minor factor in their
spiel. I don't think we need to propagate divisive verbiage in this

I've not met anyone who is always correct. If someone is genuinely
concerned with working toward a sustainable social arrangement for our
species, I at least view that their heart is in the right place. Too
many people prefer not to make an effort because they feel their god
will have the final say anyway or they just don't really care much
about what happens beyond their local personal-space/time horizon.

Clearly traditional ways have been shown to have value: 

I would also highly recommend this book: 

Implementing low tech solutions is not an inevitable return to disease
and poverty as implied by Peter Foster's review of Strong's new book. 
For example: 

The forest-facts above clearly contradict certain arguments of both
parties in the following exchange excerpted from:

I recently attended a reception for Robert Kennedy Jr. of the Natural
Resources Defense Council in a small art gallery in a trendy part of
New York City. I found myself standing with a group of environmental
activists who were having a lively conversation about the desirability
of wood-free paper. A young woman reported that she was hoping to get
tobacco farmers to grow kenaf instead of tobacco, with the apparent
intention of earning double eco-points by simultaneously saving trees
from death and people from lung cancer. "Wouldn't it be better," I
offered, "to plant trees that are native to the area and use them to
make paper? In that way the tobacco farms could be put back to
something like the original eastern hardwood forest." To this came the
quick reply, "People can't plant a forest, only nature can produce a
forest. People can only plant trees." Surprised by this I tried again:
"But surely it would be better to plant native trees than some exotic
sub-tropical annual farm crop that needs pesticides and fertilizer.
Birds and squirrels would like trees more than kenaf." This line of
reasoning got nowhere. When I suggested that if all the paper derived
from wood had to be replaced with wood-free paper we would end up
deforesting vast areas of the continent to get enough land to grow hemp
and kenaf, my listeners' eyes rolled back and I could see I was
dismissed. It amazes me that some people can't understand that if you
don't use trees to make paper and other forest products there is less
reason to plant and grow trees. The next thing you know there will be a
campaign for "tree-free wood."

Personal attacks on individuals such as the Forest Action Network (FAN)
launched against Patrick Moore have no positive value. 

Let's avoid further rhetoric and stick to specific issues. There are
plenty of problems and plenty of opinions on how to solve them. I
suspect that if we do make it unscathed through these rapidly changing
conditions our new knowledge has engendered it will be because we
elected to work together in establishing an economic system that is
more closely aligned with the rules of Nature than with the rule of
artificial banking systems.




From Larry Klaes

From Space.Ref, 7 June 2000

Date Released: Wednesday, June 07, 2000
House Science Committee

You've Got to be Kidding: NASA Hails Mars Polar Lander's Robotic Arm as
a Success Committee on Science

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman
Ralph M. Hall, Texas, Ranking Democrat

June 7, 2000

Press Contact:
Jeff Lungren ( )
(202) 225-4275

How Does NASA Know?
The Lander Crashed and The Arm Was Never Deployed

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a recent annual performance report, NASA declared
"target achieved" with the Mars Polar Lander's robotic arm, even though
NASA lost the Lander probe in December, 1999. A single line of missing
computer code caused the spacecraft to crash into the surface of Mars;
as a result, the robotic arm-and all of the other scientific instruments
aboard the Lander-were never deployed.

The Polar Lander was to land on Mars and perform an investigation of the
planet's soil and climate, in part by using a robotic arm to scoop up a
sample of Martian soil and analyze it for the presence of water.
Knowledge about water on Mars will help answer the question of whether
the Red Planet is--or ever was--capable of supporting life.

"A lot of phrases came to my mind upon hearing the Mars Polar Lander was
lost. 'Performance target achieved' was certainly not among them. By
demonstrating merely that the robotic arm worked prior to launch, NASA
claims success in the Performance Report, even though the mission failed
and the arm was never used as intended. If this is NASA's definition of
success, planetary exploration just got a whole lot easier," House
Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-WI) said.
"NASA's achievement is like Napoleon declaring victory when his troops
were assembled before the battle of Waterloo."

According to NASA's fiscal year 1999 Performance Report, the only
performance target for the Mars Polar Lander was to "Demonstrate an
advanced robotic manipulator with an order of magnitude performance
improvement compared to the manipulator used on Viking in 1976" [p. 12].
NASA's report continued, "Despite the later failure of the Mars Polar
Lander to land successfully, the manipulator system passed acceptance
tests prior to launch" [emphasis added], leading NASA to declare "target

"Such nonsense from NASA calls into question the report's credibility. I
hope to hear better answers from NASA on the Mars Polar Lander when
Administrator Goldin testifies before this Committee later this month,"
Chairman Sensenbrenner added.

Watch the award-winning arm move here:

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