ScienceScope

Science  07 Aug 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5378, pp. 761
  1. X-ray Mission Snagged

    The launch of an $86 million Japanese satellite designed to answer questions about the universe's development could be postponed due to problems plaguing NASA's contribution to the payload.

    In early 2000, Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) intends to orbit a satellite carrying a half-dozen x-ray telescopes aboard a $50 million ISAS M-5 rocket. NASA is equipping the satellite with an array of delicate sensors to provide high-resolution data on the energy outputs of the telescopes' targets. But “this is a troublesome program—and not a week seems to go by without a problem popping up,” says NASA space science chief Wes Huntress. The technical glitches could push back the M-5's launch, he told an agency advisory panel 29 July.

    Hajime Inoue, an ISAS project scientist, says NASA's snags have him “a little worried.” But he admits ISAS is running into its own problems building the satellite. Inoue says ISAS hopes to make up time by testing and calibrating the telescopes more rapidly than planned and by working weekends. “It's still too early to talk of delaying the launch,” he says.

  2. War Declared on Aliens

    Exotic invaders, beware. The White House plans to establish a high-level council next month to coordinate the efforts of more than 30 federal agencies coping with the pernicious effects of non-native plants and animals.

    The action stems from a letter sent to Vice President Al Gore last year by more than 500 scientists decrying the government's piecemeal approach to exotic species (Science, 14 February 1997, p. 915). These species can destroy native habitats, outcompete crops for soil and water, and clog waterways.

    President Bill Clinton will soon issue an executive order that creates a federal council to spell out each agency's responsibilities and tactics. “That makes good management sense,” says Elizabeth Chornesky, director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy. The council will also estimate how much money is needed to control the invaders.

  3. Lane, Richardson Get Green Light

    While Congress and much of Washington head out of town this week on vacation, Bill Richardson and Neal Lane will start work in their new positions as, respectively, energy secretary and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The Senate confirmed both nominations by President Bill Clinton hours before leaving for a monthlong recess.

    CATHALEEN CURTISS

    Richardson's confirmation came after Clinton assured Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) that the new secretary would have full authority over nuclear waste issues at the Department of Energy (Science, 31 July, p. 623). Craig had threatened to hold up the nomination because of his concerns about undue White House influence on DOE's approach to nuclear cleanup. Lane's nomination, in contrast, was not controversial, but was held up for months because of the Republican-controlled Senate's tardiness in approving Clinton nominees. Lane's confirmation clears the way for Rita Colwell to succeed him as National Science Foundation director.

  4. ... But Visa Fight on Hold

    Congress left town, however, before resolving a controversy over how many software-savvy foreigners should be allowed to work in the United States. U.S. high-tech companies, citing a booming economy and tight job market, are lobbying lawmakers to increase the number of visas granted to skilled overseas workers—such as computer programmers, engineers, and scientists—from 65,000 this year to 115,000 in 2001. The visas, which can be extended for up to 6 years, can be an important step for workers looking to settle permanently in the United States.

    Last May the Senate approved legislation to boost the visa ceiling, but the House was still struggling to pass its own version as Science went to press. If the bill is approved, it won't be until September that both chambers can come up with a single bill to send to President Bill Clinton for his signature. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, saying that its provisions so far—including one designed to ensure that an employer tried and failed to find an American for the job and that no Americans were fired in order to hire a foreigner—don't go far enough to protect jobs for U.S. citizens.