ScienceScope

Science  25 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5619, pp. 561
  1. Fighting for Flight

    NASA is struggling to get the grounded shuttle and a long-awaited space telescope into space.

    The space agency this week announced that it is again postponing the launch of the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF, below). A technical problem with the Delta launch vehicle, and NASA's desire to move ahead with a Mars mission that has a strict June launch window, will push SIRTF's launch from June to mid-August at the earliest.

    CREDIT: SIRTF

    Meanwhile, the board investigating the Columbia accident last week recommended that NASA upgrade its inspection techniques of the carbon-carbon material that protects the orbiter during reentry. NASA also should ensure that defense agencies photograph the shuttle while it is in orbit to check for signs of tile damage, the panel said. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told the National Press Club last week that he accepts these suggestions and added that he hopes the shuttles could be flying as soon as the end of this year.

  2. India Updates Monsoon Forecasting Model

    NEW DELHI—The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has revamped its monsoon forecast system in hopes of doing a better job of predicting this crucial economic driver. Using a new model with half the number of predictors, IMD says that this summer's southwest monsoon will be slightly below normal. The key parameters are the previous year's El Niño, the Eurasian snow cover, and the surface temperature of the Arabian Sea.

    “The search was for a drought/no-drought model,” says IMD Director-General Ranjan Ratnakar Kelkar. Going back 38 years, the new model successfully forecast eight of the last nine droughts; it missed only last year's severe drought, which IMD's old model also failed to predict (Science, 23 August 2002, p. 1265). The new model provides a probabilistic range, from drought to excess rainfall, for each monsoon season. It also allows IMD officials to issue the forecast 6 weeks earlier and to update it in the middle of the June-September monsoon season.

  3. Spring Break Is Over

    Science funding advocates are preparing for a bumpy ride when Congress returns to work next week. Before leaving Washington earlier this month, lawmakers passed a $2.72 trillion spending blueprint for 2004 that contained mixed news for researchers.

    Overall, the nonbinding budget resolution calls for congressionally controlled spending to grow by about 3% to $785 billion in the fiscal year that begins 1 October. Within that total, science programs outside the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services would grow by 3.4% to $23.9 billion. More than half of the $800 million in new funds would go to the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) research account and the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science. NSF would get $324 million more than the president's request, boosting research spending by 8.4% to $4.4 billion. DOE science programs would get a $100 million, 4.6% raise to $3.4 billion. The budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, would remain essentially flat at $27.9 billion. But NIH backers were buoyed by a Senate vote that endorsed a 10% boost to $29.7 billion. Now, Congress's appropriating committees will decide how much cash these agencies actually get.

  4. Koreans Join TB Battle

    A South Korean research institute has been selected to help produce a faster cure for tuberculosis (TB). The nonprofit Global Alliance for TB Drug Development this week announced that it will sponsor a 2-year project at the Korean Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) in Taejon to develop drugs that act faster than current TB treatments, which can take up to 9 months to complete. TB currently infects about a third of the world's population and kills 2 million people annually.

    The project will target a class of drugs called quinolones, which aren't part of the current standard treatment for Mycobacterium tuberculosis but are often enlisted when that regimen fails. By tinkering with existing quinolones, scientists hope to produce new compounds that could work as first-line drugs. KRICT is “a fantastic research institute” with a lot of expertise in quinolone synthesis, says TB researcher Clifton Barry of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, an alliance adviser. The TB alliance is funding the Korean team to synthesize several hundred new compounds, which will be screened in test tubes and animal models at Yonsei University in Seoul. The group declined to say how much the effort will cost.