|The Week That Was
February 8, 2003
1. New on the Web: A BRILLIANT ANALYSIS OF US SPACE POLICY BY CHARLES
KRAUTHAMMER: WHY WE MUST GO TO MARS.
2 COLUMBIA ACCIDENT: COULD IT BE CAUSED BY ORBITING DEBRIS
3. COLUMBIA ACCIDENT: COULD IT BE CAUSED BY ENVIRONMENTAL ZEAL? WHAT CAUSED THE INSULATION TO BREAK OFF?
4. CLEANER WATER BY MARKET APPROACH: EMISSION TRADING WORKS -- SOMETIMES
5. AAAS EXPERT BLAMES POVERTY OF TROPICAL NATIONS ON CLIMATE: HOW WRONG CAN ONE BE?
6. MALARIA DOES NOT INCREASE WITH WARMING, STUDY SHOWS
7. "TAKEN BY STORM" IS TAKING CANADA BY STORM
8. FRED SINGER ON PBS AT
2. Columbia Accident: Could it be caused by orbiting debris
Based on what we know about orbiting space debris, we cannot rule out the possibility that the hypervelocity impact of a tiny debris particle would produce a good-sized crater in the skin of the space shuttle. On the shuttle's re-entry into the atmosphere, this crater - if located on the leading surface of the wing -- would develop a "hot spot," conceivably damage the heat-protecting surface, and quickly cause structural failure. Perhaps careful scrutiny will uncover an acoustic signal indicating such an impact during Columbia's stay in space.
3. Columbia Accident: Could it be caused by environmental zeal?
As early as 1997, a senior NASA engineer warned that hardened foam popping off the external fuel tank on the Columbia shuttle had caused significant damage to the ceramic tiles protecting the vehicle from re-entry temperatures. The warning was sure to receive new scrutiny after NASA said yesterday that its investigation into the cause of the destruction of the space shuttle on Saturday was focusing on damage to tiles that may have been caused by foam or ice or a combination of the two. NASA officials also acknowledged that they might have underestimated the potential seriousness of damage sustained by the tiles when the shuttle lifted off.
Gregory N. Katnik, a NASA engineer at Cape Canaveral, said in a report dated Dec. 23, 1997, that the Columbia had sustained damage to more than 300 tiles on a recent flight. The inspection after a Columbia mission in 1997 showed that the tiles had sustained damage that was "not normal," Mr. Katnik said.
In a number of other shuttle flights, tile damage from falling foam also caused smaller amounts of damage, but NASA decided that over all, the problem did not threaten the survival of its spacecraft. But the idea that somehow the tile was extremely vulnerable to damage received support from the earlier report on similar damage.
In 1997, Mr. Katnik, the senior NASA engineer, worked in a division that analyzed data from inspections of the shuttles. He is now a technical manager in the Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Office at the Kennedy Space Center. He said on the 1997 mission the shuttle sustained a significant amount of damage to its heat tiles. In a normal mission, a shuttle will sustain damage to up to 40 tiles because of ice dropping from the external tank and hitting the tiles, Mr. Katnik reported. But on that mission, he said, "the pattern of hits did not follow aerodynamic expectations, and the number, size and severity of the hits were abnormal."
Inspectors counted 308 hits. Of those, 132 were "greater than one inch," Mr. Katnik said. Some of the hits measured up to 15 inches long with depths of up to one-and-a-half inches. The tiles were only two inches deep, so the largest hits penetrated three-quarters of the way into the tiles, he noted. The damaged tiles were mostly around the shuttle's nose. After the mission, more than 100 tiles were taken off because "they were irreparable," Mr. Katnik said.
The report went on to speculate as to why the foam dropped off. As it turned out, TO BE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY, NASA HAD ELIMINATED THE USE OF FREON IN FOAM PRODUCTION, MR. KATNIK REPORTED. THE MARSHALL SPACE FLIGHT CENTER IN HUNTSVILLE, ALA, LATER CONCLUDED THAT THE ABSENCE OF FREON LED TO THE DETACHMENT OF THE FOAM.
ii) Questions Arise Over Ingredient of Columbia Shuttle Insulation
By ANDREW C. REVKIN (NYT 2/6/03)
Questions were raised yesterday about whether the foam that came off the shuttle Columbia's external fuel tank was a problem-plagued formulation that several years ago replaced the original insulating foam used on the shuttle fleet.
NASA had sought a replacement because the original foam, called BX-250, contained a chemical, CFC-11, that was to be banned in 2001 because it harmed the ozone layer. The ban on chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC's, was required under an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, and the Clean Air Act.
Last night, some NASA officials and Republican Congressional staff members said that conservative and business groups were preparing to say that the shuttle disaster was caused by the ban, because the replacement foam was flawed.
But NASA officials said there was no possible relationship, for several reasons. The foam was looking less and less like the cause, they said, and they still use it on the shuttle fleet. They said the piece that broke off and hit the wing of the Columbia was PROBABLY THE OLD FOAM, NOT THE NEW, MORE TROUBLE-PLAGUED MATERIAL.
When it had trouble with the replacement foam, NASA applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for an exemption from the CFC ban, saying, "no viable alternative has been identified." It gained the exemption in 2001, and still uses that foam in a few spots on the shuttle fleet.
Last year, NASA officials said, the agency shifted to a new formulation on most of the external tank, avoiding harm to the ozone layer and THE PROBLEMS EXPERIENCED WITH INTERMEDIATE FOAM FORMULAS.
[WHAT KIND OF PROBLEMS?]
Parker Counts, the senior systems manager for the shuttle program at NASA headquarters who previously supervised work on the external tank, said that more than 90 percent of the body of the external tank is now sprayed with the new foam in ways that avoid past problems.
He added that it was "highly probable" in any case that the foam that hit the left wing on this launching was some of the original formula.
Mr. Counts echoed other NASA officials in saying that it seemed clear now that the source of the fatal fault lay elsewhere.
iii) NASA's 'Best and Brightest' May Have Been Mistaken
On January 16, 2003, and 81 seconds after liftoff, a 2 2/3 pound chunk of insulation broke off the Shuttle Columbia's external fuel tank, striking its left wing. NASA's best and brightest then embarked on a twelve-day analysis of what effect the 20-inch piece of foam had on the spacecraft.
Four days before Columbia met its fate, the NASA team concluded that the incident was not a safety concern. NASA's half page report stated that there was "no burn-through and no safety-of-flight issue."
NASA experts had gone over launch footage frame by frame and performed thermal analysis considering worst-case scenarios. Michael Kostelnik, a NASA spaceflight office deputy, along with NASA's top spaceflight official, William Readdy, said that "we were in complete concurrence" with the conclusions NASA's experts reached that no safety issue was raised by the incident at liftoff.
Shuttle's program manager, Ron Dittemore said, "The best experts at our disposal concluded that it was a minor problem, not a significant problem. And when you added all that up, there was no need to take pictures to document any evidence, because we believed it to be superficial and it to be a turnaround issue and not a safety issue. And so, we didn't take any pictures."
However, 48 hours after the fatal crash of Columbia, NASA officials were having second thoughts. Knight Ridder Newspapers report Ron Dittemore as saying, "When we wrote the report... I'm not sure we knew what we were talking about."
The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated 16 minutes before its scheduled landing on February 1, 2003, and right before which time NASA's monitor's showed that the left side of the Shuttle had heated considerably, the same side that the foam had struck Columbia's wing.
NASA's top spaceflight official, William Readdy, said, "Although that may, in fact, wind up being the cause -- it may certainly be the leading candidate right now -- we have to go through all the evidence, and then rule things out very methodically in order to arrive at the cause."
Shuttle spacecrafts are covered with over 20,000 thermal tiles that are designed to protect the craft from the enormous heat generated when flying at high speed through the atmosphere. NASA's original half page memo noted that something had hit the tiles on Columbia's left wing during launch.
According to Lockheed engineer Charles Williams and reported by Newsday, Columbia had previously been subjected to widespread tile damage in 1997, when large pieces of a new foam insulation designed to meet environmental standards broke away from the external fuel tank during launch.
However, Lockheed spokespersons had said that the problem had been rectified by drilling small holes into the insulation. Lockheed spokesman Marion LaNasa said, "The tile damage was cosmetic in nature and did not pose a risk to flight."
However, following the December 23, 1997, flight of Columbia, Kennedy Space Center engineer Greg Katnik detailed the damage to the craft in writing and found more than 100 tiles were irrevocably damaged; well over the normal count of 40... and flaking foam was the chief suspect.
At a Tulane University assembly of engineers in September 2002, Williams provided a detailed synopsis of the problems NASA had with the new environmentally-more-friendly insulation on its 154-foot-long fuel tanks.
The Shuttle's one-inch thick insulation is to prevent ice from building up and to protect the tank from heat on liftoff. The foam originally used on the shuttle's tanks was sprayed on with the propellant CFC-11, a chlorofluorocarbon that was banned in the 1990s in accordance with the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental treaty. However, EPA spokesperson Joseph Martyak said his agency had exempted NASA from CFC requirements.
NASA CHANGED TO AN OZONE-FRIENDLY PROPELLANT, HCFC 141b, IN 1997.
Following the 1997 Columbia mission, Parker Counts, manager of NASA's external tank project, told Aerospace Daily that NASA engineers did not believe that the new material was as strong as the original insulation used by the Shuttle program.
In April 2002, Dr. Richard D. Blomberg, Chairman of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel told a Congressional hearing, "I have never been as worried for space shuttle safety as I am right now," adding, "All of my instincts suggest that the current approach is planting the seeds for future danger."
Dr. Blomberg, along with four other members of the panel, was allegedly fired after voicing their concern over safety problems with Shuttle missions. Retired Admiral Bernard Kauderer, who was also a member of the panel but not fired, quit the Advisory Panel in solidarity with his five colleagues.
4. The Color of Clean Water
It's called water quality trading, which a dozen states have experimented with to good effect. The EPA is now taking this burst of free-market logic national, which promises to clean up waterways better than the diminishing returns of command-and-control regulation. Shoveling cash into additional water treatment technology is increasingly expensive, and in any event doesn't solve the problem of pesticide run-off from farmland.
"There's evidence that along the coastline we're losing ground," Bruce Yandle of George Mason University's Mercatus Center told us. There's a "dead zone" at the mouth of the Mississippi River, possibly caused by nutrient overloading. A similar problem plagues the Chesapeake Bay. And almost half of the rivers and lakes tested reveal too much pollution, notwithstanding 30 years of EPA diktats.
So EPA officials are now sensibly going to look for ways to make cleaner water profitable by allowing local governments, businesses and others to "trade" their pollution rights in a way that produces less costly but broader cleanup. Instead of imposing expensive technology mandates, cleanup plans can now include the option of paying Joe Farmer to keep his cows out of the local creek, or plant grasses for a "riparian buffer zone" that stops pollution from washing into the waterway.
North Carolina, for example, has already been using the power of the almighty dollar to solve a nutrient buildup problem in the Tar-Pamlico River basin. The problem isn't the water treatment plants -- all of which met permitted discharge limits even while dead fish were washing ashore in 1989. "The loadings from agricultural activities were just too large all by themselves," says a recent Mercatus study.
Thanks to trading, the Tar-Pamlico basin is meeting nutrient reduction goals on or ahead of schedule and for less money. Nationwide, the Clinton Administration put the annual savings in cleanup costs at somewhere between $658 million and $7 billion.
It all makes so much sense that even some professional environmentalists like it. The World Resources Institute, for one, calls it "win-win" for the environment and economy. On the other hand, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council are all in their familiar outrage mode. The "poor" and "minority communities will bear the brunt of this misguided policy" because they are the "least likely" to be able to resist "corporate polluters," avers the NRDC's Nancy Stoner.
Of course they will sue. But notice how little substance there is to that NRDC critique. It's merely a political soundbite dragging in race, class and Big Business. Opposition to even something this reasonable exposes just how partisan the NRDC and Sierra Club have become. They are assailing the Bush EPA even though the first "Draft Framework" for a national trading system was issued by the Clinton Administration in 1996. Clean water matters less to Ms. Stoner than does teeing up an issue for the next election.
A far more reasonable criticism focuses on the possibility that "hotspots" of concentrated pollution will develop around some industrial plants or cities, even as total water quality improves. But the EPA isn't going away, and neither are its overall water quality standards. Local communities will also have a strong hand in developing any trading system for their watersheds.
Fresh thinking in government is so rare that it deserves to be saluted, especially when it can help produce fresher water.
5. Poor Climate, Poorer Nations?
The Washington Science Policy Alliance at AAAS recently sponsored a seminar in which Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Columbia University Earth Institute, noted how extreme climates contribute to the extreme indebtedness of poorer countries. Read about this challenge: http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2002/1205sachsIntro.shtml
During a recent seminar sponsored by the Washington Science Policy Alliance at AAAS, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Columbia University Earth Institute, noted that 92.6% of the 30 highest-income countries in the world are located in temperate zones whereas only 12% of the 42 Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) are found in these same areas. Sachs believes that this is not a coincidence but rather one of the major reasons why the poor countries remain poor.
"Most governments and international agencies tend to think that poor countries are poor basically because they are poorly governed," Sachs says. "I think this is a complete misunderstanding. The real challenge is deeply implicated with the physical environment and thus should be the topic attracting most of the attention."
That international agencies don't take environmental issues into account to development practices just shows that "we are wrong in the way we approach problems in these countries," he adds.
Take the example of malaria, a disease that is heavily concentrated in the poorest tropical countries and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills as many as 2.5 million people per year. In the past, the spread of the disease in sub-tropical regions such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Southern United States was eventually brought under control. Sachs notes that "winter may be the greatest public-health intervention in the world." In the heart of Africa, the tropical climate offers just the right ecological conditions for the mosquito to proliferate. Science and technology could potentially offer some solutions, but as Sachs recognizes, "they operate according to the market as does everything else in our society."
SEPP COMMENTS: We know it's fashionable to blame warm climate for the world's ills. (Tell this to the thousands who froze to death this winter.) But Sachs, an economist, goes too far. Why are some tropical nations doing so well: Singapore etc? Might it have to do with governance rather than climate? And wasn't malaria nearly wiped out until use of DDT was banned? (See below) We are sure our readers may have something to say about this.
6. Global Warming Exonerated in Resurgence of Malaria
"Highland malaria has returned to the tea estates of western Kenya after an absence of nearly 30 years," begins a new study in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control. Many researchers have speculated that the return of this dreaded disease to the East African Highlands is yet another indicator that man is dangerously warming the planet. The new study, however, concludes that, "The results of our work do not support these conclusions."
The study, led by Dennis Shanks at the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya, used long-term malaria illness and total hospital admissions data (January 1966 to December 1995) from a large tea plantation in Kericho, Kenya, located in the Rift Valley highlands. The plantation covers 141 square kilometers and has employed about 50,000 people throughout the study period. The employees receive their health care from the company-operated medical system.
The mean monthly temperature and monthly total rainfall data used in the study came from a meteorological station located at the tea estates, as well as from global climatology data from a larger area of 3,025 square kilometers, which contains the area of the plantation. A secondary variable considered for the study was vapor pressure. The researchers also categorized those months deemed suitable for malaria transmission based on temperature and precipitation thresholds into a monthly suitability index.
What the researchers found was that, "During the period 1966-1995, malaria incidence increased significantly while total (malarial and other) admissions to the tea estate hospital showed no significant change. Measurements of mean monthly temperature and total monthly rainfall [at the local meteorological station] also showed no significant changes." The study also showed that data from the larger area of study such as "Mean, maximum, and minimum monthly temperatures; precipitation; and vapor pressure all demonstrated no significant trends." Nor when the "meteorological data were transferred into months when malaria transmission is possible," were there significant changes evident.
So what is the cause for the resurgence of malaria transmission in the East African highlands? The most likely culprit is resistance of the disease to the malaria drug chloroquine, especially "since all other relevant environmental and sociological factors are unchanged." The researchers also note that travel to and from the Lake Victoria region by some of the tea estate workers "exerts an upward influence on malaria transmission in Kericho...." The study notes that similar conclusions have been reached in detailed analyses of other areas of the East African highlands that have experienced a resurgence of malaria transmission.
7. "Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming" by Canadian professors Christopher Essex and Ross Mc Kitrick is selling well in Canada. Arrangements are underway for a US publisher. Meanwhile people can order through the Amazon link on the book web page http://www.takenbystorm.info.