CCNet, 13 December 1999


     "- It must be a meteorite because it fell from the
     sky -. This is of course accurate and true but is not
     necessarily proof of an extraterrestrial origin, lots 
     of things fall from the sky including birds (and     
     occasionally frogs and fish) and the vast majority of 
     them are not meteorites."
          -- Matthew Genge on popular misconceptions about
             the fall of meteorites & meteorwrongs

         the head of NASA is *Dan Goldin*

    Gordon Garradd <>

    Gordon Garradd <>

    Rob McNaught <>

    Matthew Genge <>

    Andrew Yee <>


    NASA Science News <>

    Joan and David Dunham <>

    BBC Online News, 13 December 1999

     Andrew Yee <>

     Patrick J. Michaels


From Gordon Garradd <>

Dear Benny,

From what I have seen on TV the reeds would appear to be flattened
due to wave action caused by the impact and throwing out of mud, not
due to a shallow angle impact as has been suggested in some reports.
The size of the hole was initially reported to me by a policeman who
had been on site as being about "two feet" across. The latest reports
are indicating (with hands) about 15cm across. I think the mud is
closing in, filling the hole as time goes on. Unless some action is
taken very soon, its going to be very difficult to recover.

I have spoken Kevin McHugh of the Australian Geological Survey
Organisation in Melbourne, who operate a seismometer near MT Duval,
approximately 25 to 30km SW of the impact site, and he said there is
an event of 4 seconds duration recorded on the seismometer at 8:12PM
EDST (9:12UT). The recording is of an almost pure E-W motion with the
N-S component being barely above the noise, and no sign of vertical
motion. I would put this down to a sonic boom, originating to the
East of the seismometer, indicating that the fireball travelled from
a generally southerly +/- 60deg? direction.

The local council have given up the attempt to dig the meteorite out
of the mud, their backhoe not being able to reach out into the water
sufficiently far. Reports in the media of fragments being found and
analysed to show it was a meteorite about the size of a golf ball
seem dubious to me. Questions to the media by me can't identify just
who did the analysis, and it is not clear to me if the fragments are
even part of the meteorite, none has been shown in media reports. Of
course the media reports are still full of UFO references, and the
ABC TV report 2 nights ago had footage of a jet aircraft contrail,
film by an incredulous man, thinking he has the fireball on video!.

The Guyra Council is reportably open to suggestions as to how to
recover the object now, my suggestion is to use coring equipment,
which I know exists at the nearby University of New England in
Armidale, and I will be attempting to get some action along those
lines on Monday.

Cheers, Gordon


From Gordon Garradd <>

Several media reports have stated that fragments were recovered and
analysed immediately, proving it was a meteorite. In fact the only
fragments recovered from the mud were bit of granite acording to a
Guyra policeman I just spoke to, he says the hole is about 20cm in
diameter under about 1.5 metres of water. Professor Peter Flood, a
geologist from Uni of New England is quoted in the newspapers as
saying the meteorite hit the ground at 36000km/hour and that the
seismic recording is that of the impact...

Cheers, Gordon


From Rob McNaught <>

Hi Benny,

I'm still overseas from the Leonid trip, currently in Arizona with
the Catalina Sky Survey guys. On the face of it, this is typical of
the reports that have no foundation. Any object that would fall from
space to cause what was observed would have been a well observed
fireball. Perhaps it was, but the report doesn't indicate a
widespread fireball sighting or that sightings are consistent with
the "crater". Overall, I'd say this is a non starter, but on my
return to Oz early next week, I'll make enquiries.
Cheers, Rob

Robert H. McNaught


From Matthew Genge <>

Dear Benny,

As a meteoriticist who often deals with members of the public who
believe they have found meteorites, the description of the fall from
Guyra sounds very familiar indeed. The eye-witness accounts that
accompany meteorwrongs (as opposed to meteorites) frequently have a
common thread that reflect public misconceptions of meteorite falls.
The following are the most common supporting facts given at the
Natural History Museum in London as definite proof of an
extraterrestrial origin:

(1) "It must be a meteorite because it fell from the sky". This is of
course accurate and true but is not necessarily proof of an
extraterrestrial origin, lots of things fall from the sky including
birds (and occasionally frogs and fish) and the vast majority of them
are not meteorites. In a number of cases the objects in question at
the NHM were in fact tarmac, one of which had a tyre track embedded
on one side. The possibility of human intervention (particularly when
the sample has fallen through a greenhouse) must also be considered.
In one particularly impressive case (recounted by Alex Halliday) a
large block of limestone had been dropped through the roof of a barn
by a light aircraft pilot.

(2) "It was glowing when it hit the ground". Fireballs usually
experience terminal detonations at altitudes of ~20 km after which
most fragments are falling at atmospheric settling velocity and are
no longer able to ionise the atmosphere to produce a fireball
phenomenon. Only larger, crater-forming bodies may reach the Earth's
surface as fireballs and therefore unless the observation is
accompanied by a description of an impact flash, shock wave and a big
hole in the ground it is unlikely to have been a meteorite. It is
worth mentioning that it is very difficult to estimate the trajectory
and distance of a fireball from a single eye-witness account. The
frequently described observation that "It fell behind the
house/tree/car" may relate to a fireball that had simply passed over
the immediate horizon. In this case it is quite natural that people
will then go to where they believe the object fell and recover the
most unusual thing they find (industrial slag/iron, coal and in one
case a concrete fence post).

(3) "The meteorite was hot when I picked it up". Heat loss by
ablation during atmospheric entry is very efficient and the fusion
crusts of meteorites are usually less than a millimetre in thickness
and have cooled and solidified in the last few seconds of luminous
flight. Unless a meteorite is large enough to experience significant
shock on impact (e.g. Canyon Diablo) it is unlikely to be hot to
touch. Again the presence of a sizeable crater might be expected for
such hot meteorites.

(4) "There was an explosion". Detonations and shock waves at the
impact site are only likely for larger bodies that either impact the
ground to form a crater or experience a terminal detonation at
relatively low altitude. One recent case, for example, in which a
detonation in a farm yard in the dead of night was accompanied with a
small crater and milk churns peppered with holes was probably not a
meteorite since the event occurred in County Antrim. An explosion
that occurred in Northern Kenya was slightly more puzzling because a
300 kg iron meteorite was recovered. The eye-witness accounts
describe a detonation, a pall of smoke and metal fragments that were
embedded in trees in a banana plantation. However, the iron meteorite
was weathered and evidently had been exposed on the Earth's surface
for sometime. Since the area is politically sensitive and has been
shelled and land-mined it may suggest the discovery of the meteorite
was somewhat serendipitous. 

(5) "It smashed through my window".  Except for large meteoroids that
reach the ground at a significant fraction of their original
velocity, meteorites are usually falling vertically by the time they
land. Once exception was a fragment of Barwell that bounced through a
window in Leicestershire on Christmas Eve in 1965. A report from the
metropolitan police that a meteorite had fallen through an open
window in London and set fire to a carpet under a budgie cage was
however spurious. Inspection of the blackened residue claimed to be
the remnants of the meteorite revealled only millet seeds. These are
not counted amongst the most important components of chondritic

Meteorite falls are usually not particularly impressive events at the
locality of the fall itself. The description of the Glatton fall in
1991 near Peterborough is typical since Mr Arthur Pettifor assumed
'hooligans' had thrown the meteorite into his garden. Only where
meteorites are large (e.g. Sikhote-Alin which probably impacted the
ground at ~1 km/s) or strike property (generally the roofs of
occupied buildings or our precious cars) are meteorite falls
particularly dramatic.

Dr Matthew J. Genge
Researcher (Meteoritics)
Department of Mineralogy, The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.
Tel: Int + 020 7 942 5581
Fax: Int.+ 020 7 942 5537
Staff internet page


From Andrew Yee <>


Saturday, December 11, 1999

Faster than a speeding bullet, it shot down from the sky

Scientists believe it was a meteorite about the size of a cricket
ball that hit the Guyra reservoir at a speed of around 36,000 km/h,
some time between Monday and Wednesday.

The object, however, will remain in the murky dam after police called
off a search for it yesterday.

Water use in the town was severely restricted for a day until it was
established there had been no contamination, and on Thursday and
yesterday a team of police divers tried to locate the object.

An excavator was used yesterday to remove reeds to give divers
greater access to a tunnel, about 40 centimetres wide, that the
object had created.

"We pulled the pin when we realised how deep the hole was," Sergeant
Larry Hoffman, of Guyra police, said.

Professor Peter Flood, a geologist from the University of New
England, said a seismograph, about 30 kilometres from the reservoir,
picked up the object hitting Earth and scientists were working out
the time it hit.

"We think it would have been between the size of a baseball and
football," Professor Flood said.

He said meteorites were not uncommon and that it was estimated that
each year 30,000 tonnes of them rain down on Earth, mostly into the

The piece that hit Guyra was most likely made up of iron and nickel.
It would have been drifting around in space for billions of years.

The estimated speed at which it hit the Earth, 10 km/sec, is about 10
times faster than a speeding rifle bullet.

Professor Flood said the meteorite would probably be 20 to 40 metres
below the surface.

[] Deep
impact ... divers examine the mysterious hole punched in Guyra's
reservoir this week by a flying object. Photos by RICK STEVENS.

Copyright 1999 The Sydney Morning Herald. All rights reserved.




Saturday, December 11, 1999

Mystery arrival may be just a hunk of junk

The object that made a splash in Guyra by landing in the town's
reservoir is likely to have been a meteorite. But it and its kind are
not the only dangers urking beyond the stratosphere.

In the space age, what goes way, way up often comes down.

At least once or twice a week a piece of man-made orbiting space
junk, slowed by friction with the upper layers of the Earth's
atmosphere, crashes back. Most are never seen, but occasionally their
meteor-like fireballs attract the attention of startled earthlings.

The cosmic scrap includes old satellites, used rocket stages and tiny
bits and pieces jettisoned by spacecraft, including instrument and
window covers.

Most satellites burn up on re-entry, but now and again large
fragments survive the fall to Earth, causing panic. Wreckage from the
US Skylab space station rained down over Western Australia in 1979.

Tracking space junk is the job of the US Space Command's Space
Surveillance Network, based in Colorado Springs.

"We can track an object 10 centimetres wide out to 600 kilometres,"
its spokesman, Major Mike Birmingham, told the Herald.

"We need to be sure a bit of falling space debris is not mistaken for
an incoming missile."

As of November 17 the network, which uses 17 radar and optical
telescope tracking stations around the world, was following 8,731
man-made objects in space.

That included 2,629 satellites, 6,012 bits of spacecraft debris and
90 probes travelling beyond Earth orbit.

Major Birmingham said there had never been a reported case of someone
being injured by falling junk.

"The closest call, I believe, was a Delta rocket stage that landed
near a farmhouse in Texas a few years ago."

But the Soviet Union's spy satellite, Cosmos 954, designed to spy on
Western navies, caused panic in January 1978 when it fell over
Canada, spewing its plutonium power source over a wide area.

In 1964, a US plutonium-powered satellite fell into the Atlantic
after a launch failure. Later, a Nimbus weather satellite also
crashed during launch, but its plutonium generators were found and
used again.

The Apollo 13 mission, which almost ended in disaster in 1970 when an
oxygen tank exploded on the way to the moon, carried a plutonium
power source in its lunar module, Aquarius. The astronauts made it
safely home but Aquarius burnt up in the atmosphere, dumping the
nuclear generator into the Pacific.

Three years ago Russia's Mars 96 probe, carrying 200 grams of
plutonium, was stranded in Earth orbit when its launch rocket
malfunctioned. The probe, wrongly thinking it was on its way to the
red planet, fired its engine, sending the craft and its nuclear fuel
crashing back to Earth over the eastern Pacific.

The US's space tracking authority missed the unexpected re-entry and
assumed the orbiting rocket still carried the plutonium, causing
President Clinton to phone Prime Minister Howard, warning that the
deadly material could be hurtling our way.

Mr Howard put the emergency services on standby, totally unaware the
probe carrying the plutonium had fallen back the day before.

Next year Russia is expected to send its abandoned Mir space station,
weighing more than 130 tonnes, crashing back into the atmosphere
south-east of New Zealand, no doubt triggering another wave of space
junk hysteria.

Copyright 1999 The Sydney Morning Herald. All rights reserved.


From NASA Science News <>

NASA Space Science News for Dec. 12, 1999 -- The Geminids meteor shower is underway, with a strong
peak expected on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 14.  Daily monitoring of
the shower, 1999 predictions, observing tips and more are available at .

For more information about how amateur scientists can participate in
Geminids research by possibly recording meteorite impacts on the Moon,
please see the Partners in Discovery area of
or the web site


From Joan and David Dunham <>

Much good information about observing lunar Geminids has already been
posted at NASA Science's Web site, which
you should visit.  Also useful is the diagram showing the expected
Geminid rates at (click first on Sights, then
on Meteors, and finally on Geminids).

Although it shows the situation for 1998, it gives solar longitudes
at the bottom that can be used to also determine the situation for
1999. For 1999, the leftmost part of the chart (solar longitude 261.2
deg.) occurs at 16h U.T. of Dec. 13.  This indicates that the best
part of the shower, with rates of 100 or more per hour, will occur
from about 9h to 21h UT of Dec. 14.  Keeping in mind that these are
for the Earth, and that the Moon follows the Earth around the Sun at
this time by about 2 hours, it indicates that observers in the
Pacific Ocean region, Asia and Australia should have the best chances
for observing Geminids striking the Moon. But the rates will be about
half the maximum or more for a  longer time, from about 18h U.T. of
Dec. 13 to 9h U.T. of Dec. 15, so observers are encouraged to observe
whenever the Moon is reasonably well-placed in a dark sky during this
period, roughly the evenings of Dec. 13th and 14th local time for
most, including the Americas.

The LunarImpact site above lists bright stars near the Moon that can
be recorded briefly at the beginning of a taping for calibration. 
Also, a few 7th and 8th magnitude stars will be near the Moon at
times; every 15 minutes or so examine the space ahead of the dark
limb to see if any stars are approaching it, and record them if you
see any, preferably up to the time of their occultation.  Predictions
for some of these events for North America are given at IOTA's Web
site at

Occultation observers and others with telescopes and video cameras 
are encouraged to try to record these events with whatever equipment
they have.  Even visual observers are not discouraged, especially if
they can time any flashes they might see using a tape recorder or
stopwatch and either shortwave or accurate telephone (such as the
USNO master clock) time signals. If Brian Cudnik had not observed
visually on Nov. 18th, we might still not know about the lunar
Leonids, since most of us would not have looked at our lunar tapes
closely until well afterwards, or in some cases, if ever.

Video observers should also try to take precautions so that any 
flashes that they observe might be located on the Moon's surface, to
compare with others to rule out for sure the possibility of a 
sunglint from a very high-altitude satellite.  Keep your camera at
the same orientation and at the start of an observing run, record a
little of the north and south cusps, and terminator.  Then during the
observation, try to keep part of the dark edge of the Moon in view.
The dark side was hard to detect in most videos on Nov. 18th with the
Moon over 60% sunlit, but for the Geminids, the Earthshine will be
brighter and glare from the sunlit side less, so most telescopic
video systems  should pick it up.

The Geminids will strike the Moon with less velocity than the 
Leonids, so their flashes will probably not be as bright. Also, the
density of objects is lower. Nevertheless, I think it is worth a
concerted effort to see what might happen. The Geminid rates raise
relatively slowly to the broad peak, then fall more rapidly. 
However, I've heard that the later meteors (those on the evening of
the 14th local time) tend to be brighter (larger), so that might
produce more observable flashes on the Moon.

David Dunham, IOTA, 1999 December 10o

Joan and David Dunham
7006 Megan Lane
Greenbelt, MD 20770
(301) 474-4722


From the BBC Online News, 13 December 1999

Searching for life on Mars

A forum is being launched to continue the search for life
on other planets.

The UK Astrobiology Forum is to bring scientists from a
wide range of different disciplines together to work on the
hunt for extra-terrestrial life.

There is a growing consensus among scientists that there is
life out there somewhere - though of the microscopic form
rather than the little green men of science fiction.

And despite recent setbacks in missions to Mars, the Red
Planet remains one of the most likely places to find
extra-terrestrial life - if it exists. 

Among the scientists taking part in the forum are
astronomers and biologists, emphasising the attempt
to use all scientific fields in the search.

Extreme environments

A team from the Open University is building a robot lander
intended to touch down on the surface of Mars to search for
signs of life in the next few years.

And it is thought that the British research effort would be
improved if there was more collaboration with biologists
who are experts in studying life in extreme environments
such as Antarctica.

There is no new money for the research yet, but the forum
is confident it can secure more money for what it calls "a
new science for the new millennium".

Copyright 1999, BBC


From Andrew Yee <>

News Service
Brown University

Contact: Janet Kerlin,

For Immediate Release: December 9, 1999

Brown geologist finds evidence supporting ancient ocean on Mars

James Head, a Brown University planetary geologist, is the lead
investigator on a team of scientists that has found evidence
supporting the presence of an ancient ocean on Mars. The team
received topographical data from the unmanned Mars Global Surveyor
that they say is consistent with a former ocean.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In an article to be published in Science magazine
Dec. 10, 1999, Brown University planetary geologist James Head and
five colleagues present topographical measurements which they say are
consistent with an ocean that dried up hundreds of millions of years
ago. The measurements were taken by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter,
an instrument aboard the unmanned spacecraft Mars Global Surveyor
which is circling the planet.

Head's team set out to test the hypotheses of scientists who
suggested the possibility of oceans on Mars in 1989 and 1991. The
team used data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, which beamed a
pulsing laser to Mars' surface. Scientists measured the time it took
for the laser to return to the satellite; the laser traveled a
shorter length of time from mountain peaks and longer from craters.
MOLA is the first instrument to provide scientists the information
required to construct a topographic map of the entire surface of the

For years, scientists have known about channels in which water once
flowed into the northern lowlands on the surface of Mars. "The
question is whether it collected in large standing bodies," Head
said. "This is the first time we could get instruments to
comprehensively test these ideas."

According to Head, the team has found four types of quantitative
evidence that points to the possible ancient ocean:

* The elevation of a particular contact (the border between two geological
  units, such as where one type of surface meets another) is nearly a level
  surface, which might indicate an ancient shoreline.

* The topography is smoother below this possible ancient shoreline than
  above it, consistent with smoothing by sedimentation.

* The volume of the area below this possible shoreline is within the range
  of previous estimates of water on Mars.

* A series of terraces exists parallel to the possible shoreline, consistent
  with the possibility of receding shorelines.

The results "should make all of us think more seriously about the
possibility of the presence of large-scale standing bodies of water
on Mars, big lakes and oceans," Head said. "We can't think of
anything else to explain these things. They merit much closer

Head's team concludes that further tests are necessary, including
analysis of meteorites from Mars and of landing sites, checking for
the presence of salts that may be related to former oceans.

The importance of determining whether there were ancient oceans --
and life -- on Mars is that scientists may be able to learn more
about long-term climate change and why climate changed on Mars, which
has relevance to the future of the Earth, Head said.

Head is available for interviews at (401) 863-2526.


Editors: Color images are available through the News Service [at].


Possible configuration of ancient oceans on Mars: Topographic portrayal of
the surface of Mars derived from Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data.

In the images below, areas of high elevation are white, intermediate
elevations are brown, and lower elevations are green. The blue areas
represent the region that would have been occupied by an ocean
earlier in martian history, according to the hypothesis of Parker and
co-workers. Recent data from the Mars Global Surveyor Mission MOLA
experiment show that the ancient shoreline proposed by Parker and
colleagues (located at the edge of the blue area) lies close to the
flat line expected if it were indeed an ancient shoreline. The
surface below this line is also smoother at all scales than above,
consistent with sedimentation from an ancient ocean smoothing
topography below sea level.

[Image 1]
In this topographic portrayal of Mars, above, the northern lowlands
are occupied by an ocean (blue) whose shoreline is placed at the
position of Contact 2, the line that Parker and co-workers
interpreted as an ancient shoreline. Thus, this view shows Mars as it
might have looked mid-way through its history according to the oceans
hypothesis. The Tharsis region, with numerous very large shield
volcanoes is seen in the central part of the globe. In the upper
right, many channels flow into the northern lowlands at Chryse

Credit: NASA Mars Global Surveyor Project; MOLA Team. Rendering by
Peter Neivert, Brown University.

[Image 2]
In this topographic portrayal of Mars, above, giant channels emerge
from the Tharsis region (left), Valles Marineris (bottom), and the
ancient heavily cratered terrain (right), and flow down slope into
the northern lowlands in Chryse Planitia (center). The ancient
shoreline proposed by Parker and co-workers is at the position where
the channels change from heavy scouring of the background terrain
into smooth terrain typical of the northern lowlands, suggesting that
they once flowed into a standing body of water, or ocean, as
portrayed in the blue area here.

Credit: NASA Mars Global Surveyor Project; MOLA Team. Rendering by
Peter Neivert, Brown University.


From CATO INSTITUTE, 11 December 1999

Kyoto's Chilling Effects
by Patrick J. Michaels

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the
Cato Institute.

The former head of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), which bills itself as the "consensus of
scientists," has finally made it official: if your research indicates
global warming isn't such a big deal, then it shouldn't be published.

Last May, Evan DeLucia and 10 colleagues placed a landmark study in the
journal Science demonstrating that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide
makes loblolly pine (perhaps the most important commercially grown tree
species in the world) grow like topsy. Specifically, they found that,
compared with today's growth, the amount of annual growth will increase
by a whopping 25 percent per year by 2050 if we continue to put more
carbon dioxide into the air.

The study was doubly important because it also found that this "carbon
dioxide fertilization effect" was over twice what computer models said
it should be. These are the same models that predict climate gloom and
doom if we don't dramatically restrict our use of fossil fuels, and they
are the beasts that provide the scientific cover for the onerous Kyoto
Protocol to the United Nations Climate Treaty. The Kyoto Protocol
requires that late in the next decade the United States reduce emissions
of carbon dioxide -- the main greenhouse gas contributed by humans - by
over 40 percent, compared with what we would emit if we just continued
upon our merry Dow 11,000 economic way.

The Kyoto Protocol currently enjoys the support of 11 senators.
Sixty-seven aye votes are required for ratification. Both Democrats and
Republicans can agree that Kyoto will wreck our economy, according to
just about every credible study that uses realistic policy assumptions.
DeLucia's study further implies that the overall scientific hypothesis
of rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon is wrong because plants are so
good at absorbing it and turning the earth greener. If the findings
extend globally, by 2050 the world's forests will eat up fully half of
the CO2 emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, thus making Kyoto
irrelevant. An earlier study by S. Fan, also published in Science, found
that North American forests are growing so rapidly that they are
actually taking a bit more carbon dioxide out of the air every year than
we put in! In other words, despite our humongous economic engine, our
continent is a net "sink" (depository) for dreaded greenhouse gasses,
rather than a source.

NASA global warming firebrand James Hansen, writing in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, speculated that the reason rate of
increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has slowed in recent
decades is because "apparently, the rate of uptake by CO2 sinks, either
the ocean, or more likely, forests and soils, has increased."

Enough of this, said Bert Bolin, the first head of the IPCC. Having held
that position makes him, more than anyone else, largely responsible for
the Kyoto Protocol. The initial 1988 charge from the General Assembly to
the IPCC was "to initiate action leading as soon as possible . . . for
elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on

The IPCC went on to describe itself as "an intergovernmental mechanism
aimed at providing the basis for the development of a realistic and
effective internationally accepted strategy for addressing climate
change." Our greening planet is becoming an impediment to the IPCC's
mission. So Bolin penned a letter to Science stating, "In the current,
post-Kyoto international political climate, scientific statements about
the behavior of the terrestrial carbon cycle must be made with care. . .
." It was also signed by four other very big wigs in global
environmental science.

Translation: scientists had better consider not publishing results that
might undermine support for Kyoto, signed, The Boss. But this chilling
effect proved to be too much even for proponents of Kyoto, such as the
International Council of Scientific Unions. Mihkel Arber, its head, shot
back: "Your letter on the need to temper scientific findings with
political considerations, published in Science today, is a chilling
testimonial to the current trend to limit objective reason in deference
to political ambitions. . . . The open rebuke of a scientific,
peer-reviewed paper on political grounds . . . is unacceptable to the
scientific community and serves only to tarnish the scientific
reputation [of those who signed the letter]. Your letter confirms . . .
the observation that a disturbing amount of politically correct research
is being done with little care for scientific accuracy."

For years the IPCC's chief scientist was Sir John Houghton, who wrote in
1996 that climate change is a "moral issue." Before an important 1996 UN
conference in Geneva that greased the skids for the Kyoto Protocol, he
wrote of his agreement with the World Council of Churches, calling on
governments "to adopt firm, clear policies and targets [i.e., Kyoto] and
[for] the public to accept the necessary consequences." Going further,
he stated that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will "contribute
powerfully to the material salvation of the planet from mankind's greed
and indifference."

This is the chilled environment in which the secular scientist now
works. Leaders of the world's premier scientific organizations on
climate change publicly call for the suppression of research findings
and invoke religion, not science, as the basis for policy.

But the truth of the matter is that those pine trees keep growing, and
our continent continues to become greener. There's no force in the world
-- not even the former head of the IPCC -- that can stop this. Trees
don't care who or what is politically correct (even if wooden
presidential candidates do).

Copyright 1999, Cato Institute

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From Richard L.S. Taylor
Probability Research Group

Dear Benny,

I was very interested to note your comments regarding the
two recent NASA Mars mission failures and the concern you
express regarding the effects that apparently "chancy
space-technology" may have on convincing governments and
the scientific and military communities that the issue of
planetary defense against NEO impacts  "can - if required -
be handled competently and at any time". However, I must
point out it is not correct to say that in space technology
failure must still be regarded as the norm, - failures do
occur but the majority arise from human inadequacies and
errors attributable to undermanning, less than adequate
quality control, bad organization and administration and so
on - just as is the case with aircraft crashes the great
majority of space failures should not happen.

That being said I certainly agree with you that we should
not allow the aprehension of space failures to postpone
experimental programmes in the development of space
technology or the acquisition of NEO potential collision
data until a material threat appears necessitating urgent
planetary defense measures. This would indeed be "both
shortsighted and politically imprudent". However, I cannot
go along with your unqualified endorsement of David
Whitehouse's statement which is no more than half right.
While he is quite correct in saying that "Failure is
nothing new in spaceflight" he is way off beam when he says
"there is nothing that can be done about it". This isn't
stoicism, it is defeatism!

The current unsatisfactory situation in unmanned robotic
exploration of the solar system, and of Mars in particular,
has arisen as a consequence of deliberate policy decisions.
These decisions and their import were questioned by many
experienced space scientists and engineers when they were
first proposed and as time has passed by it has become
increasingly clear these decisions were made on a less than
adequate understanding of the research aims and the
requirements of the science and technology necessary to
guarantee a high level of success. Moreover from the recent
report on the failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter mission
it becomes clear that the associated organisational systems
and strategies needed to support frontier science and
engineering projects had not been thoroughly thought
through either. The whole approach appears to have guided
almost entirely by a desire for cost cutting, or where
cutting was impossible cost containment. Unfortunately, in
space projects cost cutting means one thing more than any
other, the reduction of staff numbers and the salary
budget. Within this scenario there is a general tendency to
dispense with the most experienced senior, and hence the
most expensive, research scientists.

The cost fixation when space missions are discussed is most
clearly shown by the fact that press and media pundits are
constantly referring to X-hundred-million dollars as being
thrown away in space whenever a mission fails. I had this
very point raised no less than four times in the last week
on four different radio channels, BBC and commercial, when
I was being asked to account for, and justify, scientists
'throwing away millions of dollars in space' almost none of
the interviewers and I am sure few of the general public
appreciate that most of the money spent on space is
salaries and that money circulates in and stimulates the
general level of economic activity here on planet Earth.
The actual hardware, in terms of the materials lost to
Earth, is generally 10 to 25% of the total spend. Even if 
the material content is greatly reduced the savings are not
particularly great whereas if, metaphorically you take a
good number of those expensive scientists outside and
shoot them you really can save money!

What needs to be done is to confront the fact that the
present philosophy advocated so strongly by Dan Golding is
seriously faulted. The main problem is that the 'Better,
Faster, Cheaper' approach was created largely for the wrong
reasons and applied in the wrong way and the reality was
that it was never likely to be more than partially
achieved. It is important to note here that
'Faster' referred specifically to the total time to design,
develop, and launch a  mission and not to the actual
duration of the flight time. The 'Cheaper' concept
incorporated the idea of 'smaller' in terms of probe size
and mass and hence envisioned smaller cheaper launch

'Better' would result from the greatly shortened time from
drawing-board to launch  - no longer would probes have
outdated technology, sometimes 5 or more years old, frozen
into them. A major difficulty with this BFC approach was
that all three aims taken together are incompatible and
therefore unattainable.

The main drive behind Golding's advocacy of BFC approach to
planetary exploration was political. It had as its chief,
if not its sole, aim that of convincing the US Government
that NASA's science programme was worth funding and that
they could have much more for much less - a more
challenging and larger unmanned space exploration programme
for a significantly lower total expenditure. Golding
clearly reasoned that in times of financial constraint this
policy was the best way both of maintaining much of the
NASA programme and of securing future incremental growth as
any 'add-on' project for which special funding needed to be
sought would have a lower and more reasonable price

The problem was that along with many politicians
considerable numbers of space scientists fell into the trap
of believing that Golding had come up with the best of all
possible solutions. They focused on the perceived technical
merits of BFC as well as the supposed cost benefits. And
indeed merits there appeared to be particularly those that
would flow from the 'Faster' aspect of rapid development.
No more 386 processors in the age of Pentiums on probes
etc. A little more considered thought would have destroyed
this delusion, for delusion it was. The trouble is that the
BFC approach is not valid in the way it was to be, and is
being, applied. As it is currently used it is in essence
like trying to substitute low cost mini-car for an F1
Grand-Prix vehicle and expecting exactly the same
performance and results. This is not only damaging in the
effect it has on the public perception of space projects -
their frequent lack of success, and the poor value of doing
space research - but it completely obscures also the
potential benefits of using low cost probes in a quite
different way from the existing 'conventional' approach to
planetary exploration.

Let me explain, the BFC concept as applied is not one of
standardisation of basic design and the use of
off-the-shelf reliable components. On-board instruments are
still specially designed and built as they were for heavy
weight, high cost missions like Galileo and Cassini. The
problem is that if you are going to develop and build
special instruments on a shorter time scale they are, as we
all know, likely to be more and not less costly. Containing
costs may mean corners have to be cut, lest testing done -
the result a potentially less reliable instrument. On the
other hand the overall probe cost may be contained instead
by eliminating backup systems of effecting other economies.
The Mars Polar Lander partly for reasons of economy lacked
any means of communicating with Earth during its descent
stage so we have no means of telling what happened to the
lander or penetrators.

The present BFC probes their design and instrumentation are
conceived fundamentally in the same way as the high cost
multi-back-up exhaustively tested probes of the past. The
fact that several of these old style missions had problems
which overcome through the use of onboard backup systems
itself suggests that the BFC probes would be more
vulnerable to failure in that the means of recovery from a
malfunction or unexpected circumstance would be absent on
the grounds of economy. But the low cost advantage of BFC
probes is lost if a high percentage of missions fail to
be completed.

But the causes of failure go deeper than just pared down
technical design. The investigation of the failed Mars
Climate Orbiter mission revealed many serious strategic and
organisational problems. The project team staffing level
was said to be  too low, the outsourced technical support
was inadequately monitored and controlled - the Imperial/SI
unit confusion was in this area, and the navigation team
was essentially separate from the project team and
responsible for several missions at the same time. Overall
the system appears not to have functioned in a smooth and
fully integrated manner. This lack of coherence resulting
from split and less than well defined responsibilities
provides innumerable chances for human error to come into
play, and where that chance exist . . . well nothing
further needs to be said!

Re-examination of the exploration of Mars suggests that we
should consider adopting two different methods of reaching
our scientific objectives. The first might be dubbed the
high cost dedicated and well integrated style of mission
where high levels of reliability and redundancy are
in-built and the instrumentation is purpose designed - the
precision approach. Missions of this class would tackle
specific tasks that it is scientifically essential to
address. The cost of achieving the mission aims would have
to be realistically costed and justified in a manner that
would merit funding and support. The second stream would
envelope a truly low cost approach using largely
standardised designs, components and off-the-shelf
instruments and low levels of staffing - semi-scratch teams
in the sense that the specialists would come together just
for the purpose of the mission.

Probes of this type when assembled in numbers should be
intrinsically cheap and if flown in multiples, launched
together through the same window, would offer some form of
assurance of success even if the individual failure rate
was as great as that of the last ten missions flown to Mars
(70%). If all survived the determination of the set of
measurements would not be confined to a single location as
each low cost probe could be directed to its own specific
target zone. We could term this the scatter-gun approach
where 5 to 10 probes would fly within the cost envelope of
a single 'precision mission'.

A two track approach of this kind should be more reliable,
as all our eggs would not be in one basket, and offer an
accelerated rate of data acquisition. In terms of
scientific return we should achieve greater value for money
spent. I grant that this would call for a change of culture
within NASA and perhaps even more so in ESA whose past
missions have been almost 'gold-plated'. To sat that a
change in the space culture is necessary is not to decry
the achievements of past and present missions (when they
work) the results from the Pathfinder and particularly Mars
Global Surveyor missions have been of immense value and
importance and the project teams merit the highest praise.

To ensure the continuation of this endeavour we must ensure
that neither the public or the funding agencies come to
believe that space exploration is just a succession of
costly failures. Mouthing excuses that nothing can be done
to reduce and ultimately almost to eliminate failures won't
win us friends. Economy can be taken too far and we are in
danger of enlarging that cynical section of the populace
who are always with us and who know the cost of everything
and the value of nothing - to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. Let
us place stress on achieving 'better value and more assured
success' rather than just faster and cheaper as it operates
under the present concept of BFC!

The relevance of all this to securing a NEO defence
programme is one of confidence - if each exploratory
mission can be almost guaranteed to be successful
confidence in proposals to frustrate potential NEO impacts
will be enhanced and saving the Earth will not just be left
to Hollywood!

My best regards,


Richard L.S. Taylor

CCNet-LETTERS is the discussion forum of the Cambridge-Conference
Network. Contributions to the on-going debate about near-Earth objects,
the cosmic environment of our planet and how to deal with it are
welcome. The fully indexed archive of the CCNet, from February 1997 on,
can be found at

CCCMENU CCC for 1999

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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.