News this Week

Science  30 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5658, pp. 602

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    Third Success Reveals a Geologic Delight

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    NASA's bouncing ball of a lander delivered the Opportunity rover to the surface of Mars over the weekend, foiling the “galactic ghoul” that routinely devours unwary landers, nine so far. This is the third success for this landing technology, an airbag-encased contraption that at first looked like an engineer's joke. NASA and its beleaguered Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) win too, making a showing as can-do organizations able to explore the scientific frontiers of the solar system safely and efficiently. And what a frontier this one proved to be. “If it got any better, I couldn't stand it,” Opportunity rover scientist Douglas Ming of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, told a press conference at JPL in Pasadena, California. His rover was sitting contentedly on what looks like a rolling sea of martian “soil”—just the sort of landscape that Ming and his colleagues had hoped to analyze when NASA sent the rover 460 million kilometers in search of signs of past water and habitable environments.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Opportunity's twin, Spirit, languished after getting stuck in an endless loop attempting to reset itself. Its condition was upgraded from critical to serious last Saturday and continues to improve. If it recovers fully, Spirit faces the daunting task of finding signs of water in what is turning out to be a more challenging landscape than Opportunity's. But current difficulties and future challenges aside, Spirit could look back on an undisputed triumph: the perfect air-cushioned landing it executed 3 weeks before Opportunity began its descent.

    Down and dirty.

    Opportunity has landed on enticing martian soil stretching as far as a robot can see and is next to outcropping bedrock (upper right).


    JPL engineers proved that the airbag approach was useful the first time they attempted it: when they landed Mars Pathfinder and its petite Sojourner rover on the outwash of Ares Vallis in 1997. At the time, though, it looked like a concept with nowhere else to go. The Mars Polar Lander was already being developed to land on powerful retrorockets and three spindly legs, the way the two Viking landers had done it back in 1976. And another lander built along the same lines was being tested for the 2001 Mars Surveyor Program. Then Mars Polar Lander entered the Mars atmosphere, never to be heard from again (Science, 10 December 1999, p. 2051). Suddenly, airbags looked pretty good, the 2001 lander was canceled, and the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission—consisting of Spirit and Opportunity—was born.

    Spirit's flawless landing showed that the MER design, a beefed-up version of Pathfinder's, was viable. Nevertheless, JPL engineers were preparing everyone for the worst last Saturday as Opportunity neared Mars. Landing on Mars “is a hard thing to do,” said Robert Manning, the mission's atmospheric entry, descent, and landing manager. “Each time we do it, it's another experiment.” Then Opportunity proved that Spirit was no fluke. As one observer of the postlanding pandemonium in the JPL control center said: “Who would have thunk it? We did it twice.”

    Now the airbag lander is once again technology in search of a mission. The 2001 Mars Surveyor lander is being reborn as the Phoenix lander to explore the high northern latitudes of Mars under NASA's new low-cost Scout Program (Science, 8 August 2003, p. 743). The next lander in the Mars exploration program—the far-roving Mars Science Laboratory—is intended to be a “smart lander” able to actively avoid hazardous boulders and steep slopes and put a rover precisely where scientists want it. Mission scientists hope that airbags might someday get a chance to make up in ruggedness what they lack in pinpoint landing precision. “Certainly the system performed very well,” said MER project manager Peter Theisinger of JPL. For now, though, it's too early to say which challenging sites of the sort passed over for MER (Science, 10 May 2002, p. 1006) might be tackled next.

    Two views of Mars.

    Europe's Mars Express orbiter just returned this 3D image. The top part of the frame shows a vertical view; the bottom part shows a side view of same terrain.


    The two sites rovers have bounced into should keep scientists happy until Phoenix arrives at Mars in 2008. Opportunity was headed for what from orbit looked to be a “very bland” part of Meridiani Planum, said rover mission principal investigator Steven Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. As it turned out, “we are actually inside a small impact crater,” said Squyres. There are so many geological goodies nearly in reach within the 20-meter crater that “we could [profitably] spend the rest of the mission inside this crater.” The iron-rich mineral grains discovered from orbit appear to cover the ground in and out of the crater, and a lighter-colored bedrock crops out in the inner crater wall not 10 meters away. Geologists love bedrock because they can read its geologic history more easily than that of a loose rock.

    Team scientists wish they could see outcropping bedrock at Spirit's landing site in Gusev Crater on the other side of the planet. “We knew going into Gusev that it's a pretty messed-up place,” said Squyres. Its surface has suffered a billion years and more of impacts and wind erosion. “We see rocks, but we don't know where they came from.” So far, almost all the Gusev rocks look like volcanic basalt, not the sedimentary rocks formed in an ancient lakebed that scientists are looking for. And the first chemical and elemental analyses suggest that the soil at Gusev is the same windblown material seen at the Viking and Pathfinder landing sites. The hypothesized lakebed, if it exists, could be buried under the global soil and perhaps basalt lava flows as well. But at Meridiani, scientists “know where the bedrock came from,” said Squyres. It formed where it's seen today, perhaps layer by layer from the looks of it. So, after checking out the soil, Opportunity should be able to stroll up to an outcrop and read the story of its formation. “This is wonderful stuff,” said Squyres.

    European planetary scientists are getting some wonderful observations from Mars as well. Their instrument-laden Mars Express orbiter is just settling into position and returning its first color, 3D images and spectra. Devotees of Mars should soon be overwhelmed.


    Senators Probe Alleged Financial Conflicts at NIH

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Stealing a march on other congressional investigators, two senators grilled officials from the National Institutes of Health last week about alleged conflicts of interest by NIH scientists who received hefty outside consulting fees. At the 22 January hearing, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni discussed plans for stronger oversight but said that federal scientists should continue to consult for companies. The lawmakers' disapproving tone, however, suggested that they favor a tight clampdown on these outside activities.

    Presiding over the packed, 2-hour hearing were two fans of NIH: Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, and the most senior minority member, Tom Harkin (D-IA). They jumped ahead of the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, which had announced in December that it would look into a Los Angeles Times report that several NIH employees had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees and stock options from companies (Science, 19 December, p. 2046). Both Specter and Harkin championed doubling NIH's budget over 5 years to $27 billion in 2003. But the new allegations, Specter observed, “will give fuel to people who want to cut back on your funding.”

    Zerhouni told the senators that he shares their concerns but noted that only 3% of NIH scientists—some 200—have consulting agreements, which they must report to ethics officials. But he is scrutinizing 365 active deals, suspending all new ones, and “completely review[ing]” policies set in 1995 by then-Director Harold Varmus, who relaxed some restrictions on outside consulting to make working at NIH more attractive. Zerhouni announced that a blue-ribbon panel co-chaired by Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Norman Augustine, chair of the executive committee of Lockheed Martin, will conduct a 90-day review of NIH's conflict policies.

    Hot seat.

    Elias Zerhouni defended outside consulting by NIH staff members.


    At the same time, Zerhouni said he had seen no support for allegations that these payments affected NIH decisions on clinical trials or extramural funds. In addition, four NIH scientists named in the Los Angeles Times articles testified that they did not knowingly break the rules. NIH Clinical Center Director John Gallin said he had failed to report ownership of stock in a company for which he consulted because he simply didn't realize it was in his wife's investment portfolio for 2 years. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Director Stephen Katz blamed “a gap” in oversight mechanisms at his institute for failing to detect that a company testing a drug at his institute was owned by Schering AG, a company for which Katz consulted. Katz added that he had made no “substantive decisions” in the trial.

    NIH eased its rules 9 years ago, other federal officials noted, in part because the executive Office of Government Ethics (OGE) asked NIH to make its policies consistent with those of other federal agencies. Then-NIH Director Varmus could have asked for a regulation to retain tighter limits on staff consulting but did not do so, noted OGE acting director Marilyn Glynn. However, this month NIH proposed an ethics-related change to OGE: It would like to make public financial reporting forms filed by NIH's scientific, deputy, clinical, and institute directors, even though those officials are in a special salary category that can exempt them from public disclosure.

    “We need full transparency,” Zerhouni told the subcommittee. But he advised against barring staff members from receiving any outside compensation, saying that to recruit world-class researchers, “we must be able to compete for their services.” Appropriations committee chair Ted Stevens (R-AK) agreed: “We need to encourage collaboration” rather than “taint” it with suspicion.

    But Specter and Harkin weren't convinced. Harkin agreed that the basic research done at NIH “has to be translated” to patients through interactions with industry but suggested that as government employees, NIH scientists “just should not be getting compensated by companies.” And Specter seemed disturbed by the sheer number of consulting agreements, saying, “It is obvious that this poses a very, very substantial problem.” He urged that, as a first step, these deals be made public, and he intimated that other limits might be needed: “The subcommittee is prepared to do it if you don't.”

    Several House Democrats have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate NIH's consulting policies (Science, 23 January, p. 449). And the powerful Commerce Committee's oversight subcommittee may hold hearings later this year, during which the questions are likely to be even less friendly.


    Budget Deepens Cuts to UC System

    1. Robert F. Service

    Fewer students, open faculty positions left unfilled, and an end to outreach programs to spur math and science achievement among minorities are likely if state legislators sign off on $227 million in cuts to the University of California (UC) system proposed by California's new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The requested 8% reduction marks the largest of four straight years of cuts in state funds for UC, as California tries to dig itself out of a $14 billion deficit. And it could get worse: More drastic measures will be necessary if on 2 March voters defeat a $15 billion bond issue now trailing in the polls.

    “The continuing trend of reduced state funding makes me deeply concerned,” says Robert Dynes, president of the nine-school UC system. “The governor is making difficult choices, … but it should be understood that these cuts would have a very serious impact on the University of California.”

    Charles Harris, who heads the UC Berkeley chemistry department, estimates that two of Schwarzenegger's proposals—a 40% rise in graduate student fees and a hike in out-of-state tuition—will lead to 10% fewer graduate students, because each one will be more expensive to support on a principal investigator's grant. “That, in turn, means we'll have to reduce the size of our incoming class,” Harris says. Freshman enrollment and financial aid also face steep cuts.

    A handful of UC programs face elimination, including a distance learning program that would provide Internet access to K-12 schools as well as outreach programs designed to spur achievement in math, science, and engineering among minorities. Robert Cota, who directs one such outreach program at UC Santa Barbara, says that cutting these programs is shortsighted, as advances in science and engineering fueled the state's economic boom in the 1990s. “You shouldn't get rid of salesmen if you want to increase sales,” Cota says.

    Blown away.

    The governor's budget would end funding for California's MESA program, which fosters scientific inquiry—like these sail cars—among minority students.


    In addition, four interdisciplinary institutes, which received $400 million from bonds and other state funds, wouldn't get any money for operating expenses. During construction, the institutes were allowed to use up to 5% of their bond funding to pay for operating expenses. But that money runs out this summer, leaving them to get through next year with funds from outside sources and whatever they can wangle out of the legislature this spring. “It will limit what we can do,” says Evelyn Hu, who co-directs the California Nanosystems Institute at the UC campuses at Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

    The UC system is not alone in facing cuts. Schwarzenegger also eliminated $2 million for planning a network of marine sanctuaries along the California coast and $250,000 for guidelines on state funding of stem cell research. The absence of guidelines could discourage biologists from pursuing stem cell projects out of concern that the research might later be branded unacceptable, says Hank Greely, a biomedical ethicist at Stanford University. “This certainly does not make [Schwarzenegger] look friendly to medical research,” he adds.

    Most experts say it's too early to know the shape of the budget the legislature will adopt this summer. But university officials are doing what they can to bolster support for their programs. “We are launching the battle on all fronts,” says Lawrence Coleman, the UC vice provost for research.


    Ecologists Roiled by Misconduct Case

    1. Gretchen Vogel,
    2. Fiona Proffitt,
    3. Richard Stone

    BERLIN, GERMANY, AND OXFORD, U.K.—A Danish government committee has ruled that one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, Anders Pape Møller, is responsible for data fabricated in connection with an article that he co-authored in 1998 and subsequently retracted. Møller, a professor at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, has denied that his data were fabricated and has told Science that he plans to sue his chief accuser, Jørgen Rabøl, or the panel that issued the ruling, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), for defamation.

    The charge, stemming from a bitter dispute between Møller and Rabøl, a former colleague, has cast a shadow over the relatively tight-knit world of behavioral ecology, the study of mating and other behaviors in an animal's natural environment. “It's a sad thing,” says Malte Andersson, president of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology.

    One point that's indisputable is Møller's reputation as a towering figure in the field. Møller has been a key proponent of the idea that traits such as long symmetrical tails in barn swallows, which attract potential mates, are a sign of beneficial genes. He has also shown that stress caused by environmental factors such as parasites can lead to the development of asymmetrical body parts. The failure to overcome such stress is a sign of weaker genes, he theorized, and therefore asymmetric traits are less attractive to potential mates. “He is prolific not just in papers but in ideas and in setting trends,” says Ian Jones of the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. “It's hardly possible to write a paper in behavioral ecology without making extensive citations of Anders's work.”

    Under fire.

    Data underlying a paper published by Anders Pape Møller in Oikos are in question.

    Indeed, Møller has more than 450 articles and several books to his credit. “The astonishing thing about him is the number of papers he writes with new results and analyses,” says evolutionary biologist Paul Harvey of the University of Oxford, U.K. That has many journal editors pacing nervously. “We're all bemused,” says Michael Ritchie of the University of St. Andrews, U.K., editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology and an officer of the societies that publish the journals Evolution and Animal Behaviour. “We need to work out what we should do and get it right. I don't think there's going to be any instant decisions.”

    At the center of the controversy is a study that Møller undertook while a professor at the Zoological Institute of the University of Copenhagen in the mid-1990s. The study tested the idea that the action of herbivores nibbling at the leaves of the stone oak (Quercus rotundifolia) triggers a stress-induced reaction in which later leaf growth is asymmetric—reflecting potential developmental weakness. In the study, degrees of herbivory were simulated by removing no leaves, half the leaves, and all the leaves 3 weeks before the emergence of new leaves. A lab technician, Jette Andersen, measured asymmetry by comparing the width of the left and right halves of new leaves. Møller and Florentino de Lope of the Universidad de Extremadura in Badajoz, Spain, published their findings in the June 1998 issue of the journal Oikos. Andersen was credited in the acknowledgment.

    In 1999, Andersen and Rabøl, then an associate professor at the Zoological Institute, alleged in an “opinion” sent to Oikos that the paper was based on fabricated data rather than on Andersen's data. The editor-in-chief, Nils Malmer, launched an investigation and in a 24 November 2000 letter demanded the paper's retraction. Møller and de Lope agreed; Oikos in March 2001 ran a retraction from the pair stating: “It now appears that the measurements and analyses behind the data in the article were flawed and misinterpreted, implicating [sic] that the conclusions drawn are invalid.”

    The retraction failed to satisfy Rabøl, who according to DCSD felt that it cast unjustified suspicion on Andersen. In a 29 March letter to DCSD, Rabøl filed a formal complaint against Møller.

    In October 2001 DCSD appointed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Arne Helweg of the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, to consider the case. Møller objected to one of the two other panel members—Freddy Bugge Christiansen of Aarhus University—on the grounds that he and Møller had known each other for many years and thus Christiansen had a conflict of interest. DCSD disagreed, and that November the ad hoc committee asked Rabøl and Møller for data and other materials. According to the panel, it took nearly 6 months for Møller to submit readable data files. (Science viewed case documents that had been posted to the Zoological Institute's Web site.) Møller told Science that his copy of the original data was lost in an office burglary shortly after he moved to Paris in 1996. The files he submitted to the committee, he says, were reconstructed from partial printouts left after the burglary.

    The tail's tale.

    Møller's studies suggest that traits such as symmetrical tails of barn swallows are an indicator of genetic fitness.


    In a 25 September 2002 recommendation, Helweg's panel stated that it “is convinced” that the data files Møller supplied “are at least partly fabricated and cannot be based on authentic measurements.” In one data set, the panel said, 75 values stated to three decimal points recur in a second data set representing separate measurements. “Such coincidence 75 times out of 75 data points can be ruled out unless measurements are reused,” the panel stated. A third data set also showed “a large number of instances of similarity.” Meanwhile, the panel found that Andersen's different data set supplied to the committee—which she and Rabøl asserted was the paper's original data—did not agree with the paper's results.

    In a 31 January 2003 letter to DCSD, Møller argued that the case rested on “probability arguments”—“events with very low probabilities do happen.” He also noted that he was not the sole author of the paper and that “even more people were engaged in collecting and entering the data.” Moreover, Møller claimed that measurements by one of his students showed that Andersen's measurements could not be replicated. (De Lope says he agrees with Møller's characterization of the measurements.) The ad hoc committee responded that the coincidences in Møller's data sets “definitely cannot reasonably be due to chance” and that “there is no explanation as to why [Møller] cannot produce an authentic data material that agrees with the results of the paper.”

    Møller followed with a more detailed rebuttal on 12 November, assailing the committee for “blatantly erroneous and morally and legally unjustified” conduct. Among his 10 points, Møller claimed that an unnamed expert, working with the data files he had given the committee and without his guidance, had arrived at the findings published in the original paper.

    In a statement that Møller distributed widely to colleagues earlier this month, he claims his accusers were motivated by revenge. Rabøl, he says, was forced to retire after a complaint from Møller resulted in a “highly critical and damning report” from an international committee evaluating their university department. Rabøl acknowledges that he was asked to retire, but he says that this did not influence his complaint about the Oikos paper.

    In his rebuttals, Møller also charges that Andersen “had a problem of alcohol abuse,” insinuating that “data provided by her might have problems of reliability.” Møller elaborates that he had once seen “more than 20 empty beer bottles” in Andersen's office. An accumulation of bottles “is a distinct possibility,” Andersen told Science, explaining that empties from institute parties tended to collect in her office. She denies having had any problems with alcohol.

    Møller insists that, in his many collaborations over the years, “never once have I had any complaints about my conduct.” However, some of his colleagues are now scrutinizing his earlier work.

    As Science went to press, concerns had emerged over a second paper. In 1993, Møller and Andrew Pomiankowski of University College London co-authored a widely cited paper in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology on why birds have multiple sexual ornaments. The paper claimed to have examined only species from the British Museum's Tring Collection that had at least 20 fully molted males, and it stated that Møller had measured the specimens. But Adrian Thomas of Oxford University says that when he and his colleagues went to find the birds in the mid-1990s to conduct an analysis for a similar study, they discovered that the Tring Collection held fewer than 20 such males for six of the 21 species cited in the paper. “The absence of specimens is clearly a major problem,” says Thomas. “There's something wrong somewhere.”

    Thomas says that when he queried him, Møller said that he'd also measured specimens in other European museums. But the paper spelled out that the criterion for the choice of species was those with sufficient specimens at Tring, implying that this was Møller's means of getting a random sample. Møller claims that Thomas never questioned him about the Tring samples. He confirms that he may have examined specimens from other museums and rejects the characterization of this as a problem. Pomiankowski says he now mistrusts Møller's work: “I've stopped reading anything on which Møller is an author,” he told Science.

    However, many others have rallied to Møller's defense. “I certainly support Anders in everything he's doing,” says Jacob Koella, Møller's supervisor at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. “As far as I understand, he did a calculation wrong. That hardly means he fabricated data.” De Lope, who says he has collaborated on about 35 papers with Møller, says he's convinced of Møller's probity.

    Most observers are reserving judgment until Møller gets his day in court. “He has to go through hell now if he's going to get his name cleared,” says Oxford's Harvey. He says that until Møller is vindicated in court, he has informed Møller that he has advised students and colleagues not to cite Møller's papers if an alternative source can be found. “It's the only sensible thing to do,” he says.


    Director Expected to Step Down

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    The director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) plans to resign before her 6-year term ends in August. Microbiologist Rita Colwell has told several colleagues of her plans, Science has learned, although she has not specified a date.

    Rumors were circulating in Washington, D.C., last week that Colwell planned to announce her departure as early as this week, shortly before the president's 2005 budget is unveiled, and that it was tied to her frustration with a succession of stingy White House budget requests for the agency. Arden Bement, the current director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), was said to have accepted the job as interim NSF director and was preparing to testify in that capacity at an 11 February hearing of the House Science Committee.

    Early out.

    Rita Colwell has been NSF director since 1998.


    But the rumors appear to have been wrong. Science committee staff members say that Colwell accepted their invitation in late December and hasn't notified them of any change of plans. NIST spokesperson Matt Heyman says that Bement “doesn't have 11 February on his calendar.” And NSF's William Noxon says that Colwell plans to both present the president's 2005 budget for NSF on 2 February and represent NSF at the committee hearing. Last week Colwell told Science that she was not leaving anytime soon.

    Still, several senior science policymakers say that Colwell has decided not to finish her term. “She's leaving early, possibly in a few months,” says one official who has spoken with her.

    Colwell was appointed NSF director by President Bill Clinton in 1998 after a double switch. Originally chosen as NSF deputy director, Colwell moved up the ladder into the spot vacated by then-Director Neal Lane, who left to take the place of retiring White House science adviser John Gibbons.


    WHO Ramps Up Bird Flu Vaccine Efforts

    1. Dennis Normile

    TOKYO—While a killer avian influenza decimates poultry flocks in Asia, scientists in a World Health Organization (WHO) flu network have started work on a vaccine to protect humans from the often-fatal disease. Because this virus stymies traditional egg-based vaccine production methods, they are using a novel genetic modification technique to hatch a tame virus. But a flu vaccine produced this way has never before been used in humans, raising questions about safety and efficacy. Intellectual-property rights are also an issue, as is the capacity for mass production.

    Addressing these issues “has to be expedited,” says Klaus Stöhr, a virologist who heads influenza preparedness efforts at WHO in Geneva.

    Since last December, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has appeared in at least eight Asian countries. Human infections are rare and so far appear to result from direct exposure to diseased birds. But researchers worry that if the virus infects a person already carrying a human flu, it will reassort into a new virus easily transmissible from person to person, touching off a global pandemic. WHO hopes to get a vaccine that could help prevent not only rare human deaths from bird flu but also this potentially devastating viral reassortment. If the virus does acquire human transmissibility, however, yet another new vaccine may be required.

    In either case, vaccine developers have a head start, thanks to work done on an H5N1 strain that briefly appeared in Hong Kong in 2003.

    Dirty and dangerous.

    Workers culling diseased birds could be among the first to be vaccinated if a bird flu vaccine gets into mass production in time.


    Traditional flu vaccine development relies on mixing the target flu virus and a harmless flu strain in chicken eggs and then screening for an appropriate vaccine candidate. This doesn't work for H5N1 because it kills chicken embryos. To sidestep this problem, a group at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, adapted a reverse genetics process in which genes from different viruses are individually cloned and reassembled into an inactivated vaccine virus. Working with the 2003 H5N1 strain, the researchers cloned the two genes that code for the virus's surface glycoproteins: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. The remaining six genes needed for a viable virus were cloned from a “safe” influenza virus strain long used in vaccines. All the cloned genes were introduced into a cell line where replication was initiated. The resultant virus is incapable of causing disease but carries the surface glycoproteins that stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies to H5N1.

    Unfortunately, the H5N1 strain circulating this year differs so dramatically from the 2003 strain that a new seed vaccine is needed. Producing it will take at least until late February, according to WHO officials. And that is just the first step. Stöhr explains that normal efficacy trials, which determine if a flu vaccine reduces deaths or hospitalizations, will be difficult to carry out. He also worries that some countries may object to a vaccine based on a genetically modified organism.

    Another challenge is that MedImmune Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, holds the patent for the reverse genetics process. Although company spokesperson Jamie Lacey says that the firm offered “to license our patent rights to the manufacturers of a pandemic vaccine,” details remain to be negotiated. And other individuals and institutions hold rights over other aspects of the process used by the St. Jude team. A final issue is how quickly drug manufacturers can ramp up mass production.

    “These are humanmade problems and humans can solve them,” says Robert Webster, a flu expert who directs the WHO collaborating center at St. Jude. It's unfortunate, he says, but it seems that the only way to focus attention on solutions is for “people to start dying in serious numbers.”


    How Much Space for Science?

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Space scientists hope that robotic and human missions can coexist as President George W. Bush's new exploration plan sparks an emotional debate over NASA's future

    U.S. space science was riding high last November when a group of scientists and engineers gathered at the National Academy of Sciences' conference center in Irvine, California. Their task was to offer advice to the country's ailing human space flight program—a $6-billion-a-year endeavor struggling with a grounded shuttle fleet and a half-completed space station and under heavy fire for poor management and lack of vision.

    The contrast with NASA's $4-billion-a-year robotics programs couldn't have been more stark. The Hubble Space Telescope had achieved virtual celebrity status for its spectacular images, two rovers were headed to Mars, and the Cassini probe was gliding toward Saturn. Eager to provide input, the Irvine team suggested that NASA replace the shuttle, refocus station research on human physiology, and plan an exploration program with robots in the vanguard and humans following behind.

    The group's advice, released on the morning of 14 January, was astonishingly similar to the vision outlined later that day at NASA Headquarters by U.S. President George W. Bush. What the team didn't anticipate was that NASA's science program might suffer as a result. Human exploration, not science, was the goal, Bush said.

    A long-range budget chart unveiled later that day by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared to back that up, displaying a new exploration program expanding dramatically in bright blue, whereas “aeronautics and other science activities” were flatlined in dull gray. Two days later came word that no more shuttle missions would be flown to service Hubble, ensuring an earlier end for astronomy's workhorse. “This is a kick in the teeth,” says one angry participant in the Irvine meeting. “It's the worst outcome I could imagine.”

    The speech and its aftermath, coming just days before the first anniversary of Columbia's loss, have rekindled animosities between NASA's science and human space flight communities. They have also divided scientists who stand to benefit directly from Bush's new plan from those who fear losing their research funding. The dispute is sure to spread to Capitol Hill, as legislators take up NASA's budget for next year. The controversy already has reversed a recent warming trend that has seen scientists, from clinical medicine to deep-space astronomy, seeking ways in which astronauts could help further their research goals.

    White House and NASA officials insist that the sudden wave of fear and antipathy among researchers is all a terrible misunderstanding. “Don't panic,” urges presidential science adviser John Marburger. The Hubble decision was purely about astronaut safety, say NASA managers, and the president's plan for exploration will augment science programs, not undermine them.

    But many scientists recall past broken promises involving human space flight programs. “If I were a science guy, I'd try to kill this thing,” says one Democratic congressional aide. “These manned programs get out of control and eat everything.” That's also how it looks to John McElroy, a retired earth scientist, engineer, and longtime NASA adviser. “The stated schedule is too silly to comment upon, [and] the budget is so ridiculous as to be beneath consideration. I am not given to faith-based space programs.”

    Watch your step.

    NASA hopes that its new exploration plan will help recapture the heady days of Neil Armstrong's “giant leap for mankind” aboard Apollo 11.


    Of course, many scientists aren't afraid of the human space flight bogeyman. For those who want to study the moon or Mars, Bush's address gave them powerful political protection. And they dismiss the concerns of their colleagues. “For years, scientists have been saying that the human space flight program has no direction,” says a disgusted Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who has proposed a lunar sample-return mission. “Well, now that it does, the whining begins.”

    Tearing down the wall

    The course change proposed by Bush would halt shuttle flights in 2010 and abandon the space station around 2016. Due to safety and scheduling, future flights to Hubble would be cancelled. A new launcher would transport humans to the moon by 2020 and eventually to Mars (Science, 23 January, p. 444). Those flights would be preceded by a new series of lunar reconnaissance robotic missions, while the current Mars science effort would continue unabated, and a nuclear technology program would reignite the outer solar system science program. A combination of new money, program reshuffling, and budget cuts would cover the cost, the details of which will appear next week in the Administration's 2005 budget request.

    The president's plan marks the first time in 15 years that the space agency has been in the White House limelight. But a similar call for lunar and Mars bases from the current president's father soon fizzled. And the early 1990s were plagued by cost overruns to the space station, delays in shuttle launches, Hubble's myopic mirror, and the inexplicable disappearance of the massive Mars Observer orbiter.

    Daniel Goldin was hired in 1992 to untangle the mess, and he spent the decade trumpeting smaller and cheaper spacecraft. There were some successes, notably the landing of the Mars Pathfinder lander and rover in 1997, and space science underwent a renaissance in the latter years of the Clinton Administration. Hubble's scientific triumphs, aided by astronaut mechanics, dazzled the public. Putative evidence that a martian rock contained a fossil excited White House interest in 1996, and individual Mars flights coalesced into a long-term, scientifically vetted, and well-funded exploration plan. Despite the loss of two Mars missions in 1999 and feuding within the solar system robotic program, funding was on the rise and a host of new spacecraft were on the drawing board. But continued troubles with the space station made talk of human missions beyond completion of that facility taboo.

    When O'Keefe arrived in December 2001, the former White House budget official imposed strict cost limits on the still-unfinished station but left space science largely alone. Although biological and physical scientists work closely with astronauts, the space science and space flight programs operated virtually as different agencies with vastly different cultures and an ill-concealed distrust of one another. Aside from Hubble servicing missions, they rarely intersected. And both sides liked it that way. “We've been careful in constructing a social, technical, and funding wall between the two,” says Daniel Lester, an astronomer at the University of Texas, Austin.

    O'Keefe almost immediately began poking holes in the wall, however. He proposed a multibillion-dollar effort to develop sophisticated nuclear power and propulsion systems that would benefit both human and robotic efforts in space (see p. 614). He tried to erase the ancient divisions among field centers and among headquarters offices. And he opened the door to human exploration beyond the low-Earth-orbit space station. At the same time, a small group of space scientists began to explore whether a human presence in space could further their research goals, through construction of large-scale telescopes and even large robotic planetary spacecraft in orbit (see p. 613).

    The 1 February 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster put NASA's future onto the president's agenda. A White House interagency team began meeting last summer to consider a new direction for space exploration. Except for Marburger, no senior scientist inside or outside the government was part of that high-level, tightly held discussion led by the National Security Council, according to Administration sources. And although Marburger bristles at the notion that the views of scientists were ignored—“this was not something cooked up by a few people in one corner of the West Wing”—he declines to discuss who was included or even what was discussed.

    The labors of senior White House staff shaped the president's speech this month, which labeled robotic missions as “an advance guard to the unknown.” Although these machines have proven their worth, Bush said, “the human thirst for knowledge ultimately cannot be satisfied by even the most vivid pictures or the most detailed measurements. We need to examine and touch for ourselves.”

    Spirited response

    Despite Bush's emphasis on human exploration, the four-page fact sheet accompanying his speech paints a more science-friendly vision of NASA's future. The document backs “robotic exploration across the solar system for scientific purposes,” with an emphasis on Mars, the Jupiter system, and asteroids to seek evidence of life, understand solar system history, and pinpoint resources. The plan also supports “advanced telescope searches for Earth-like planets and habitable environments around other stars.” That list covers the vast majority of NASA space science. And Marburger says that even the apparent outliers, “like the acceleration of the universe,” might fit under the rubric of exploration.

    What bothers many researchers, however, is the perception that science is taking a back seat to human flight. “Scientists are saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute! We're the ones keeping NASA going,’” says Joseph Alexander, staff director of the National Academy of Sciences' Space Studies Board, which sponsored the Irvine workshop. As O'Keefe himself noted, the number of hits on the agency's Web site to access the latest findings from the Spirit rover far outnumbers those who logged on in the wake of the Columbia disaster. The White House, says one researcher, is missing the boat: “What excites people is Mars, Hubble, black holes—not the space station!”

    The blue and the gray.

    Some science programs would see a flat budget under the Bush plan for space exploration, which includes terminating the space shuttle in 2010. Other scientific efforts may be included in the exploration line, but details won't be released until next week.


    Old hands can supply a litany of broken promises made to the science community. Apollo 18 and 19, devoted to intensive science studies, were canceled. Many of the shuttle's planned complement of scientific instruments, such as a solar telescope, never materialized, and innumerable space station facilities for biology, materials science, Earth observing, and astronomy were delayed or abandoned. Although science was touted as an important driver for NASA's major human space flight programs, other factors predominated. The Apollo program was the product of the Cold War, the space shuttle helped rescue a sagging aerospace industry, and the space station began as a race against the Soviet Union—only to become a tool for cooperation with post-Soviet Russia.

    Administration officials warn researchers not to assume that past is prologue. “This vision has greater scientific relevance than past missions—and science will be more productive with it than in its absence,” says Marburger. NASA space science chief Ed Weiler says the new approach will go far beyond Apollo's single-minded objective. “This is not a flags-and-footprint program,” he says. “The moon is a steppingstone, and scientists are excited about going to Mars.” So is the president, he adds. At a January meeting, Weiler says, Bush asked “direct science questions,” including one about martian carbonates.

    Even so, science clearly will not be in the driver's seat for the new initiative. So should researchers go along for the ride anyway? “We have to avoid the sirens' call of money,” says Yale University astronomer Meg Urry. She adds that researchers drawn into the effort should be careful not to sacrifice the quality of their work along the way. “We should always go for the best science; let's not do it just because there is money to be had.” Others take a more pragmatic view. “If we were given $1 billion to put a telescope on the moon,” says Lester, “we'd be crazy not to.”

    Most space scientists are awaiting NASA's 2005 budget request and its long-term plan for space science before casting their vote. Without a budget, says Lennard Fisk, an astronomer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who chaired the Irvine study and who once served as the agency's space science chief, “it is hard to know how excited to get.”

    In the meantime, astronomers are plenty agitated about the decision to cancel the Hubble servicing mission. They complain that NASA sprung the decision on the community without openly considering other options, such as moving the telescope to match the space station's orbit so it could be serviced safely. Congress is hearing their call. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a protector of NASA's programs, is preparing to fight for another repair mission.

    But even those concerned about Hubble's fate worry that such a battle would likely pit astronomers and opponents of the president's plan against planetary scientists and the Administration's supporters. Opposing the new exploration plan ultimately could prove dangerous for space science, warns Fisk. “We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we need to provide human space flight with a valid mission,” he says. “The entire space program is very unstable if half of it is in deep trouble.”

    In other words, before robots and astronauts can work together successfully in space, their advocates on Earth must learn to get along.


    Asking for the Moon

    1. Andrew Lawler

    The moon has been left in the dust in the stampede by U.S. researchers to study Venus, Mars, and the outer planets during the past 3 decades. The new White House vision for NASA promises to give lunar science its chance to shine, but NASA will have to play catch-up.

    Although the American space agency has no approved lunar science mission, its European, Japanese, Indian, and Chinese counterparts are well on their way toward preparing spacecraft to explore the moon (Science, 2 May 2003, p. 724). A sample-return mission to the Aitken Basin at the lunar south pole will be part of a wider NASA competition now getting under way. Scientists can propose flights to Venus, Jupiter, and a comet as well as the lunar site. The winner, to be chosen next spring, must keep costs under $700 million and launch by 2010.

    The president's 14 January announcement certainly gives a leg up to two proposals that would return lunar samples, NASA officials say. Each would touch down somewhere inside the basin, a vast feature some 2500 kilometers in diameter and 13 kilometers deep near the lunar south pole. A National Research Council decadal survey last year strongly backed a sample-return mission to the roughly 4-billion-year-old basin, which geologists believe to be the oldest in the solar system and an important source for data on its development (Science, 2 May 2003, p. 727). The region is also the most likely site for the lunar base that Bush wants to build after 2015. Two U.S. orbiters in the 1990s sparked a still-unresolved debate on how much water exists at the moon's poles and what form it takes. The presence of easily attained water would be a great help for lunar pioneers.

    A closer look?

    Scientists hope to return samples from the south pole of the moon, seen in the 1994 Clementine mission.


    The chance to explore the moon, whether with humans or robots, excites researchers. The moon's surface may preserve meteorites from ancient Earth, Venus, or Mars, and its regolith—lunar soil—may hold clues to the charged particle environment in the solar system's early evolution. But NASA managers warn that even if the sample return is approved, that doesn't mean a U.S. flotilla of research-focused spacecraft will follow. Robotic flights to prepare for a lunar base would be paid for by NASA's technology office rather than out of the space science budget, says NASA space science chief Ed Weiler. “Out of 50 or 60 Discovery proposals, only three have been about the moon,” he says regarding NASA's competitive program for robotic space missions. “The scientific community has not voted with its feet.”

    That comment infuriates some space scientists. “I'm taken aback,” says Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. NASA “systematically rejected proposals to do lunar science for the last decade,” he adds. “They locked us out.” That attitude forced those interested in the moon to look elsewhere, says Spudis, who is proposing a sample-return mission. The other competitor is a team led by Michael Duke of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

    In arguing for more attention to robotic lunar exploration, Spudis urges Weiler's office to consider history. Although the robotic Ranger and Surveyor spacecraft in the 1960s were designed primarily to test technology and ensure safe operation of humans on the lunar surface, he says they produced important science as well. “Those missions taught us a lot about how the moon works. So if we go back, there is scientific knowledge to be had.”


    Astronomers Ponder a Really Long-Range Vision for NASA

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Scientists are deeply divided over what type of telescopes to build in space, where to put them, and what they should do—and that's before the politicians weigh in

    They jokingly called it a loya jirga, after the contentious tribal council convened to choose a new Afghan government. The astronomers, earth scientists, and spy-satellite experts who convened last May in Boulder, Colorado, were indeed an ornery and territorial bunch. But the prospect of pooling their expertise to build space telescopes larger and more powerful than anything yet attempted was enticing enough to bring them together under one roof.

    When the participants gather this May for Loya Jirga II, also hosted by NASA, there will be more on their minds than the details of competing technologies. The new White House exploration plan makes no mention of space-based telescopes, save for a reference to instruments to detect Earth-sized extrasolar planets. But retiring the shuttle and eventually abandoning the station to build a lunar base could have a radical effect on the size, design, and placement of a new generation of space telescopes—and on whether there will be any money to build them.

    Researchers are divided on whether such instruments should be built by astronauts and robots or deployed by themselves. Location is also a thorny issue. Some favor the moon as the best location, whereas many others prefer free space; spymasters want to keep their assets disposable and in low Earth orbit. Still other scientists say the push for massive space observatories is wrong-headed, given advances in cheaper ground-based instruments. This spring, at the invitation of several federal agencies, the National Research Council (NRC) will convene a panel to examine the options for new space-based observatories.

    Peaceable kingdom?

    Drawing shows robots and astronauts working together to assemble a giant telescope in free space.


    On Earth, building a large mirror is a technical challenge limited only by money. But volume is also a problem for space-based telescopes, as the largest rockets can accommodate a payload only about 5 meters across. Anything bigger must be designed to unfold by itself or be assembled in space.

    The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), with a 6.5-meter aperture, is the first in what could become a series of segmented mirror instruments. When launched in 2011, it will automatically unfold its mirror in space, like petals of a flower. Pedro Rustan, who oversees advanced technology for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), envisions much lighter and more flexible structures that use nanomaterials and techniques to shrink mirror weight by eight-to tenfold. Working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the spy agency has already built a 0.2- meter telescope and is testing one twice as large. Rustan hopes to complete a 0.75-meter mirror in 2006 and a 3-meter version in 2008, with an eye toward a 10- to 12-meter mirror by 2012.

    For NRO, servicing isn't an issue. Its budget is big enough to order a replacement when the existing instrument fails, eliminating the need for humans or even robots in space. “There will be a role for humans in space but not for a traditional role like Hubble servicing,” Rustan argues. But for most scientists, sending up another telescope when the first one breaks “is not politically possible,” says Roger Angel, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Instead, Angel and many other researchers prefer to rely on astronauts to assemble and maintain the instruments.

    Where to site such an instrument is perhaps the most contentious issue of all. Angel favors the moon's poles, noting that “you have water that can be extracted and solar power.” But increasingly, scientists say they prefer free space, and particularly the Lagrange points, where the gravity of two bodies—such as the sun and Earth—cancel each other out. (JWST will be parked at L-2, more than a million kilometers from Earth.) The points are stable, cold, and clean, and they provide a perfect view. “The moon is dusty; I don't see any advantage to it,” says Riccardo Giacconi, an astronomer who heads Associated Universities Inc. (AUI) in Washington, D.C.

    Two views.

    Roger Angel (top) and Riccardo Giacconi disagree over the best location and design for a future generation of new telescopes.

    Servicing such distant observatories would be difficult and expensive but not impossible. Although JWST is designed to be disposable, NASA officials envision occasional sorties to future observatories at Lagrange points and a new launch vehicle to change out instruments and perform systems maintenance, much as was done with the Hubble Space Telescope in low Earth orbit.

    Standing outside this debate over size and location are those skeptical of ever-larger-aperture instruments. “I just don't see it as necessary,” says Anne Kinney, NASA's astronomy chief. She believes that ground-based telescopes fitted with adaptive optics, which can screen out the distortions of Earth's atmosphere, are much more cost-effective. Kinney says it makes more sense to launch interferometers, which can create virtual mirrors that surpass any human designs.

    Not quite, says Angel. Interferometers are great for searching out extrasolar planets, he notes, but cosmology relies upon scarce photons. Space is also the best place to observe at wavelengths absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, such as infrared.

    The NRC report, written for NASA and the intelligence community, hopes to integrate these competing views into a comprehensive plan for space-based telescopes. The panel, not yet chosen, will build on last spring's Boulder meeting as well as a December workshop hosted by Johns Hopkins University and sponsored by AUI. Its recommendations, in turn, will be folded into the larger policy debate over implementing the president's vision for space exploration.

    Bush's plan is sure to affect all aspects of future large space-based telescopes. Without access to a space station after 2016, assembling a telescope in orbit would be impractical. And the push for a lunar base might give moon advocates such as Angel a big boost. Most troubling for astronomers, however, is the fear that the cost of building a new launcher and setting up a base on the moon would squeeze out any revolutionary telescope project, no matter how enticing the technology or the science.


    NASA Hopes Bigger Is Better for Planned Mission to Jupiter

    1. Andrew Lawler

    A nuclear propulsion system is expected to provide more power—and more angst—for a trip to Jupiter and its icy moons

    For much of the past decade, NASA has operated according to the mantra “faster, cheaper, better.” But like Detroit, the agency has recognized that there are limits to downsizing. Take its plans for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), the biggest and costliest planetary probe in its history. This planetary sport/utility vehicle could travel for years in remote places, and it will test nuclear propulsion and power technologies that are seen as essential elements of the president's new space exploration plan.

    But although scientists hope that the spacecraft will be a prototype for similarly giant probes to Saturn, Neptune, and the asteroids, other forces may keep it earthbound. A price tag approaching $10 billion could be a fiscal hot potato, and the specter of a radiation-spilling accident has already caught the attention of environmental groups. “If they can pull it off, this will be an intellectual boon of historic proportions,” says Eugene Levy, an astronomer and provost at Rice University in Houston, Texas. But he and others, such as astrobiologist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder, are nervous. “The political future is uncertain, and my concern is that this could come to nothing,” says Jakosky.

    For scientists, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. As now envisioned, JIMO would leave Earth around 2012, carrying a dozen instruments designed to conduct more than three dozen investigations and gather more than 12 dozen kinds of measurements. There may even be room for a small lander that would plummet to the surface of Europa, the moon believed to harbor an ocean—and, perhaps, ingredients for life—underneath its icy crust.

    JIMO is the guinea pig for Prometheus, a nuclear technology program and the first major initiative of NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe after arriving in December 2001. A former Navy secretary, O'Keefe is a fan of the naval reactor program and is eager to find a replacement for the chemical propulsion and solar power systems that have been the mainstay of NASA's human and robotic efforts since the 1960s. The space agency has occasionally used nuclear power, such as with the Mars Viking landers and planetary probes such as Saturn-bound Cassini, but O'Keefe argues that a higher scientific payoff requires vastly more powerful engines, power generators, and data-transmission components.

    Prometheus Bound.

    Powered by nuclear reactors, the planned JIMO spacecraft is shown nearing the Jupiter system and its icy moons.


    Prometheus would develop advanced nuclear reactors—based on those used aboard Navy ships—to push the spacecraft to its destination as well as to operate onboard systems. Some previous NASA power systems used the decay of nuclear material to generate electricity, but not full reactors and not for propulsion. If the technology works, JIMO would free space scientists from the tyranny of hoarding watts and compressing data. All of Cassini's instruments together will consume 300 watts of power, return a few gigabits of data, and spend hours observing Saturn's moons closely. By contrast, JIMO would provide more than 10,000 watts of instrument power, some 500 gigabits of data, and months of observation time at each target, according to NASA documents. The spacecraft could orbit Europa for 2 months, then spend 4 months at Ganymede and another 4 months at Callisto.

    Just a couple of years ago, a far more modest mission to Europa was on the verge of cancellation. So JIMO was a welcome and wholly unexpected surprise. “They replaced a $1 billion Europa mission with a $10 billion one!” jokes Jakosky.

    Researchers last year worried that the experimental nature of the nuclear systems might make any scientific goals an afterthought. But a panel of NASA and outside scientists in December completed an aggressive science plan that the agency has embraced. “Science is really in the driver's seat in this mission,” says NASA project scientist Curt Niebur. The panel concluded that the 600 kilograms' worth of instruments was too little and urged a minimum of 1500 kilograms. Saturn-bound Cassini, by contrast, includes 600 kilograms of scientific payload, most of which is devoted to the Huygens probe slated to fall into Saturn's moon Titan.

    No glow.

    JIMO may face the same type of antinuclear protesters who greeted Cassini's launch in 1997.


    About a quarter of that larger science capacity on JIMO would be set aside for a Europa probe, with a lander that Niebur compares to “the size of a garbage can lid.” Instruments could include an astrobiology payload and a device to measure the depth of the ice pack covering the moon's surface. The density of that ice pack is the subject of a fierce controversy among planetary scientists, so the prospect of reaching Europa's surface by the next decade is an exciting one. “The risk is you send the wrong instrument or don't find a suitable place to land,” says Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Much will hinge on progress with the power and propulsion systems now getting under way. “You just can't do this mission any other way,” says Ronald Greeley, a geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe who co-chaired the science definition team.

    But those systems will be both costly and controversial. When it was launched, Cassini drew protests and legal challenges from environmentalists who feared that an accident could disperse radioactivity in the atmosphere. O'Keefe insists NASA will deal head-on with the nuclear concerns. “In this past year we have specifically engaged all of the public interest groups—Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth—everyone out there who has an issue or an interest in this,” he says. “We're fresh-air Freddies here; what we are going to do is very transparent.” NASA has even hired the Keystone Center, a Colorado-based public relations firm, to help its efforts.

    Keystone officials did not return calls, but environmentalists are not impressed. “Keystone is not trying to address our concerns,” says Bruce Gagnon. He directs the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space in Brunswick, Maine, and was contacted by the company. “They are helping NASA put together a public relations strategy to circumvent those concerns.” He adds that Prometheus would dramatically expand the amount of radioactive material being put into space and thereby increase the danger of a catastrophic launch failure. NASA, he warned, “is making a tragic mistake [with] trouble ahead for the scientific community.”

    And there is more than just Earth to worry about. NASA officials also are concerned about contaminating other parts of the solar system. “Because of radiation issues, we may have to make special provisions if the propulsion power system fails while in Europa orbit,” according to NASA documents.

    Such concerns are moot if the cost of JIMO and Prometheus prevents the project from reaching the launch pad. “We're talking about missions not less than $4 billion—and we haven't seen a commitment to sustain this,” says Levy. But despite the risk, Lunine notes, “it's not as if NASA offered us a menu.” That leaves planetary scientists with little choice but to hitch their fate to JIMO's uncertain star. And if it works, they should have plenty of legroom.


    NASA's Plan for Station: From Lemon to Lemonade

    1. Andrew Lawler

    NASA halts plans for a research institute and takes yet another look at which science should and should not be done on the space station

    Harvard physicist David Weitz studies the behavior of soft condensed matter through experiments aboard the international space station. But President George W. Bush's announcement this month that the orbiting lab will henceforth be devoted to science related to human missions to the moon and Mars has put him in research limbo. “If I take him at his word, then we're all out of business,” says Weitz. “We should just pack up and go home.”

    Weitz is only the latest in a long line of scientists frustrated by their involvement with the space station. In the 1980s, the facility was touted as a place where industrial and academic researchers could harness the potential of zero gravity by developing new pharmaceuticals, conducting a spectrum of basic research, and examining the effects of space on plants, animals, and humans. Construction delays and cost overruns, however, have drastically shrunk that vision. The current unfinished facility has a staff of just two who can devote only a dozen hours a week to experiments. “The science you can do on the station is largely trivial,” says Mary Jane Osborn, a biologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington and a longtime NASA adviser on station research. “I feel both dispirited and mad.”

    NASA is betting that it can transform that anemic effort into a focused, viable, and credible effort. But, as with everything involving the space station, it will take time. Last week the agency postponed for at least a year its plans to set up an independent research institute to oversee station science. The delay will allow the agency to hear from a National Research Council (NRC) study, begun in response to the president's speech, on revamping the research program. Meanwhile, the NASA office that oversees biological and physical sciences may be reorganized, causing further delays.

    Water torture.

    Plant experiments such as this one likely will be jettisoned in the next review of space station science.


    But time may be running out. Bush called for a halt in U.S. station operations in 2016—far earlier than anticipated and just 6 years after completion. It is unclear how research will be done after retirement in 2010 of the shuttle fleet, which transports the large research racks that make science possible. In addition, a new crew exploration vehicle (see below) won't be ready until 2014 or later. NASA also must consider its European, Japanese, Russian, and Canadian partners, all of whom have invested heavily in the facility. “No one should worry about the 2016 date now,” advises David Black, president of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, Maryland. “If the station is shown to be useful, there's no reason the station couldn't go on until 2020.”

    The new space station research program likely will have no room for materials science and fundamental physical and biological experiments, once seen as part of the station's unique contribution to cutting-edge science. The NRC panel will convene in March and hopes to deliver preliminary findings this fall and a final report within a year, says Mary Kicza, NASA chief of biological and physical sciences.

    Kicza also last week abruptly halted a competition to set up the new institute, warning that the agency might drop the idea altogether. A 1999 NRC report strongly backed the concept, but managers at Houston's Johnson Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, fought the idea of giving outside scientists any control over a space flight effort. Congress backed them up in 2000, forbidding any planning work, but the ban was lifted in 2002.

    What remains, however, is a prohibition against overseeing engineering or integration work—a critical aspect of experiment preparation. That limitation is aggravated, say outside researchers, by Kicza's unwillingness to give the new institute the authority to choose most of the experiments and principal investigators. The institute, says one, “has become a threat” to NASA.

    Not at all, responds NASA's Betsy Park, whose office manages the effort. NASA wants “a very strong research institute that can represent the whole community.” Although the institute's authority would grow in time, she notes, “I don't think we or they are prepared for them to take over the whole thing.”

    NASA's skittishness frustrates those interested in bidding on the contract to operate the institute. Riccardo Giacconi, who led the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, in its early years, notes that the telescope institute's power came only after “continuous bloodletting” with Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope. “We earned their respect,” he adds.

    Giacconi now heads Associated Universities Inc. (AUI) in Washington, D.C., one of two organizations that intend to bid in the competition. “We need a more mature vision—and real scientists saying what makes sense,” he says. “If we're not going to put [the station] out of its misery, then we need to decide what we can do.” His colleague, AUI astronomer Ethan Schreier, warns that “we won't bid” if the institute is no more than a conduit to channel NASA money to researchers.

    Researchers at the other likely competitor, USRA, agree that the institute needs greater authority. The current plan is “fundamentally a support-service contract,” says Black. “We believe NASA needs to step away from running the research program and let the institute do the heavy lifting.” In the aftermath of the president's speech and Kicza's decision to delay the institute, Black says he is more sure than ever that NASA must seek outside help.

    In the meantime, Harvard's Weitz is waiting to hear from NASA about the status of his experiments. “I'm desperately worried,” he says. “I may be closing down a third of my research group.” But previous jobs in industry have taught him an important lesson, he says: “Things change, and you'd better adapt.”


    Versatility Is the Object for New Crew Vehicle

    1. Charles Seife

    Can one vehicle really replace the shuttle, go to the moon, and take humans to Mars? NASA hopes industry comes up with the right answer

    The president's announcement that NASA hopes to establish a permanent presence on the moon by 2020 has sent engineers and scientists scrambling to figure out how to get there. It will have been almost half a century since Eugene Cernan left his footprints on lunar soil in 1972, the last astronaut to do so, and NASA no longer has a spacecraft capable of taking up where Apollo left off. Indeed, because the president wants to retire the nation's current mode of transporting astronauts into low Earth orbit—the space shuttle fleet—in 2010, virtually all U.S. human exploration will be impossible unless NASA comes up with a safe and cost-effective vehicle that can replace the shuttle and also take payloads beyond Earth's orbit.

    NASA's new vision will therefore be riding on efforts to build what the president called a crew exploration vehicle (CEV), to be ready to service the space station by 2014. Right now, nobody knows what it will look like, nor how it will take off and return to Earth. “They have to figure out a way to do this,” says Roger Launius, a former NASA space historian now at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. “The complexity of any vehicle that goes beyond Earth orbit is raised immensely.”

    Cosmic companions.

    Future moon missions could resemble Apollo's collection of a capsule, engine and life-support module, and lunar lander.


    Since the last moon landings, NASA engineers have concentrated on missions to low Earth orbit: Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, the space shuttle, Mir, and the international space station. Indeed, until the president announced the initiative, the big U.S. aerospace firms—Lockheed Martin and Boeing —were busy designing a replacement for the shuttle known as the orbital space plane (OSP) to conduct similar missions. But the requirements for an exploration vehicle that will reach the moon are very different from those of a crew-return or crew-transfer vehicle for a space station.

    The first difference is the preferred shape. A vehicle meant to pluck astronauts from the international space station— particularly in an emergency—should be able to maneuver upon reentry so that it can land in a suitable spot. If astronauts have to leave the station in a hurry, that maneuverability, something known as cross-range, can mean the difference between landing at a well-equipped U.S. airbase and the middle of Siberia. In contrast, a capsule like the ones used by the Mercury, Apollo, or Soyuz astronauts depends on a carefully timed reentry to land close to its target—a luxury that an injured astronaut might not have.

    But the wings that gave the shuttle its distinctive shape and large cross-range aren't needed for a mission out of Earth orbit because they can't function in a vacuum or in a very thin atmosphere. “You don't need wings to go to Mars or the moon,” says Michael Mott, vice president of Boeing NASA Systems. The current designs for the OSP included both planelike and capsulelike variants, anticipating the CEV's dual missions to ferry astronauts to the space station and take them out of Earth orbit. “I don't think that there's a serious change in direction for the CEV that NASA wants,” says Mott.

    A big difference between the OSP and the CEV, however, is the sheer amount of propellant that's needed to get the craft to its goal. A low-Earth-orbit spacecraft such as the Soyuz capsule need only carry enough fuel to knock itself out of orbit. A moon vehicle must have an extra engine and fuel to leave Earth's orbit and enter a moon-bound or Mars-bound trajectory, as well as enough propellant to break out of its new orbit and return to Earth.

    Apollo engineers solved this problem by building an enormously powerful rocket. The Saturn V could lift about 120,000 tons to low Earth orbit, more than enough thrust to handle a large Apollo complex of spacecraft, extra engine, fuel, life support, and lunar lander. Thirty years of technological improvements will allow the CEV payload to be much lighter than the Apollo complex. “In wiring alone, you eliminate hundreds of pounds of wiring used in the Apollo mission,” says Mott. Even so, NASA will need to think creatively: The launchers tapped for the OSP, the Atlas V and Delta IV medium, can't lift more than approximately 20 tons into orbit in their present configuration. As a result, the space plane, engine, and lander may have to be launched separately and then brought together in orbit, or NASA may even use existing Russian or European heavy launchers to get heavier components into orbit.

    So far, nothing has been ruled out. “Nobody's said anything about the launch vehicle,” says John Logsdon, a space expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has stated that there are no plans to design a new launch vehicle from scratch, although he suggested that NASA will study how to get the required cargo into space with slight modifications of existing launchers. Current OSP designs show it sitting on top of a launcher, which would allow a small rocket to eject it if the launcher explodes on the pad.

    The most striking difference between a moon mission and an orbital mission is the lander. Although the designs are very preliminary, there are hints that they will look like beefed-up Apollo landers, which were known as lunar excursion modules (LEMs). “Yeah, you see a lot of LEM-like designs,” says Mott. “The physics hasn't changed, and the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo people got it right.”

    To satisfy those intractable physical laws, a CEV needs to be light, relatively simple, and able to link up with a lander, an engine, and a fuel source. It must also ferry astronauts on and off the space station under all conditions. This one-craft-does-all approach frightens Launius, who draws a parallel with a U.S. fighter-bomber intended to fulfill many roles for the Army, Navy, and Marines. First used in Vietnam, it was phased out in the 1980s. “The F-111 in the 1960s was supposed to do everything,” he says, “but it couldn't do anything very well.”

    If history is any guide, NASA is likely to face similar pitfalls in building the CEV. Many consider the shuttle itself a failure; with a $400 million cost per launch, it never came close to fulfilling NASA's promise of cheap access to space. And several attempts to design a shuttle replacement or crew-rescue vehicle have gone awry, most notably the X-33. This experimental vehicle swallowed $1 billion before the program was cancelled a few years back. That level of performance, all agree, simply isn't good enough for NASA.


    From Bean Counter to Visionary: A Space Odyssey for NASA Chief

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Two years after his arrival and 1 year after the Columbia tragedy, Sean O'Keefe is trying to take NASA back where it's been—and beyond

    It wasn't too long ago that a senior Republican lawmaker blasted Sean O'Keefe's vision for NASA as “timid and anemic.” Not anymore. Although many people are skeptical of the president's new direction for NASA, none is accusing the space agency's top administrator of being faint-hearted.

    It is an astonishing transformation. As a Pentagon comptroller and second-in-command at the White House Office of Management and Budget, O'Keefe was known as a bean counter rather than a visionary. His arrival at NASA headquarters in December 2001 was greeted with dread by those who feared that his job was to keep expensive visions at bay.

    Yet today the 48-year-old O'Keefe is at the helm of an ambitious effort to remake the U.S. space exploration program with the promise of billions of new dollars. What happened? “He's gone native,” grouses one former Pentagon colleague, who complains that O'Keefe gradually was seduced by the glamour of the astronaut culture and swallowed up by the realities of directing a federal agency. Others say it was the Columbia disaster last February that forced O'Keefe to reckon with the agency's future. But John Marburger, the president's science adviser, believes the rethinking began when O'Keefe was appointed to the job amid concerns about space station cost overruns. “That's when space policy began to change,” he says.

    In retrospect, the administrator's early push to develop nuclear power and propulsion systems, build a shuttle alternative, and lift the old taboo on discussing human missions beyond the space station were obvious clues to what lay ahead. In the wake of Columbia, O'Keefe surprised the White House by asking for a massive spending increase—on the order of $27 billion over 5 years—to speed up and expand work on these efforts, Administration officials say. The White House balked at the cost and insisted on a clear destination. O'Keefe came back this fall with plans to send humans to Mars; ultimately the president chose a lunar base as a more immediate goal that was less likely to cause sticker shock.

    An ambitious and loyal Republican, O'Keefe is rumored to lust after a senior Pentagon post, a rumor he strenuously denies. Regardless, his political future may hinge on how well he runs the congressional gauntlet in coming months. He must convince skeptical lawmakers that his prescription for NASA will cure the ailing human space flight effort without hurting the healthier space and earth sciences. Gaining that support may prove tougher than getting face time with the president or vice president, a longtime patron. O'Keefe is respected on Capitol Hill, but he has a tendency to speak at length and say little. “He wouldn't know how to speak a straightforward sentence if you paid him,” says one frustrated congressional aide.

    O'Keefe spoke with Science just prior to the president's 14 January speech and, thus, declined to discuss details of the exploration plan. But he appeared relaxed and forthright in a wide-ranging discussion in his office overlooking the Potomac River and the Pentagon. His edited remarks on various topics follow.


    NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe (left) rejoices with Cornell's Steve Squyres after the 3 January landing of the martian rover Spirit, which later developed communications problems.


    On the Mars Spirit rover:

    How things have changed in a year! There is a very thin margin between great success and great failure, and I've seen both ends of it. On the Spirit landing, we didn't know how dense the atmosphere of Mars was. Had we [started the parachute firing sequence] a few seconds later, it would have crashed and might even have buried itself about 5 feet [1.5 meters] straight down. Holy cow—this could have been a disaster. And we might not have known why. That's the hairline difference between success and failure. It's razor thin. [Spirit's troubles as Science went to press painfully reinforce that notion.]

    On the science behind exploration:

    It will be a significant driver. The story of Spirit is both science and exploration. There's the theory and the tools. And then we're going to put the pedal to the metal and go explore, and figure out what is on the other side of that ridge. It's all about both. But … if you have to demonstrate every exploration goal with an exclusive scientific theoretical context, you are not going to capture the imagination—except for the community interested in that. The president has a very strong conviction that the combination of an exploration and a scientific agenda is a formidable effort and worthy of a noble nation.

    On the critics of space station science:

    In the last year and a half, we have energized the life sciences community in a way that hasn't been done before. They would not have looked at space flight [seriously] before. There's progress—but at the same time I'm not a Pollyanna. There is always going to be a parochialism of how my discipline is going to benefit.

    On the cultural divide:

    [Space flight and space science] are coming together; the cross-pollination is pretty extensive. We're going to pack up the folks who run [shuttle mission operations] at Johnson [Space Center in Houston] and send them to [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California] to sit through the run-up to the Opportunity landing. It is a terrible waste of capability to duplicate capabilities.

    On what drives discovery:

    Neil Tyson, the head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, has traced the [underpinnings of] seminal exploration achievements. First is national defense. Second is an economic advantage—such as going to the New World. Third is a national objective, such as the current Chinese motivation [for space flight]. And a fourth is human expansion based on knowledge and interest and desire. There are pitifully few of these achievements, but they do occur. And when they happen they are interesting, such as Chinese [ocean exploration] in the 14th century. Tyson argues that the Chinese [ultimately] made a determination that everything available elsewhere was of lesser value. They made that determination at their peril and to their detriment.

    Low point.

    NASA's Steve Altemus (right) shows O'Keefe wreckage from the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated 1 year ago.


    On George H. W. Bush's failed vision: There are people who even in the last several months have asserted that all that is necessary is for the president to proclaim a vision and we're on our way. I said, “You think so?” If 1989 wasn't a demonstration of why that theory is wrong, then we didn't learn much! The articulation of a vision and a set of goals and aspirations is insufficient to really propel this [new initiative] anywhere. Our mantra all the way through has been: “Here's the direction, and here are the dollars to carry it out.” Anything that requires a leap of faith, an invention, a suspension of the law of physics—any of those things—are disqualified. Those aren't visions, those are fantasies.

    On completing the space station: I think the scientific community thought [partial completion, dubbed core complete] was the goal, and that wasn't what was intended. We're looking at something on the order of half a dozen flights to reach core configuration once we return to flight and probably 25 thereafter to assembly complete.

    On “going native”: You have to adapt to what the circumstances require. The history of the last 2 years is attention to cost consciousness. I think any objective observer would say NASA is profoundly and fundamentally different than it was 2 years ago. If that is going native, then it is a native instinct that wasn't present at this agency 2 years ago. The attitude when I walked in the door here by most senior folks was that something costs what it costs. I said, No, you better have a better idea than that—or else it'll cost nothing, because we won't bother doing it. If we are going to promulgate a policy it better be realistic, it better have goals and objectives, and we better have the capacity to really do it.