Science  10 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5801, pp. 903

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    BACK IN ORBIT. When he was NASA's chief scientist, John Grunsfeld publicly defended an unpopular decision by his boss, Sean O'Keefe, to cancel a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The mission, Grunsfeld said in 2004, was too dangerous, and there wasn't enough time or money to ensure astronaut safety. Personally, however, “I was absolutely devastated,” recalls the astrophysicist and astronaut, who twice before had flown shuttle missions to repair and upgrade the now 16-year-old instrument.

    Upset with O'Keefe's decision, Grunsfeld called Princeton University astronomer John Bahcall for advice. “He told me, ‘You can throw down your NASA badge, and you'll be the hero of the astronomy world. But you will be able to do nothing for NASA science.’” Grunsfeld decided to swallow his feelings and stay on at the agency.

    O'Keefe left NASA last year, and last week his successor, Mike Griffin, chose Grunsfeld for a third visit to the orbiting telescope (Science, 3 November, p. 736). “I feel like a mission to Hubble is worth risking my life for,” Grunsfeld said 31 October at a press conference announcing the servicing mission. “The next mission to Hubble will be much safer than the missions we've flown before,” he asserted, citing NASA's new in-flight ability to inspect and repair damage to the shuttle.



    TROUBLE IN ITALY. Sergio Vetrella, head of Italy's space agency ASI, has resigned along with most of his board, and his former agency appears to be headed into choppy waters after 5 years of relative calm. Vetrella (above) has been under fire for holding two key posts—chief of ASI and president of CIRA, its science and aerospace research subsidiary in Capua. He will retain the second post. An interim director has been named to ASI for a period of up to 6 months: Vincenzo Roppo, a law professor at the University of Genoa.

    Roppo will have to supervise the launch of a few Italian satellites in the spring— “Agile,” a gamma- and x-ray imager that will ride on an Indian vehicle, and a pair of “Cosmo SkyMed” surveillance satellites, co-funded by France, that are set to go on Russian launchers. He'll also have to deal with some political troubles looming on the horizon: ASI is caught up in a public controversy over Italy's finance law due to take effect in January that critics say could reduce the autonomy of agencies involved in research. Although the government has promised to protect science, researchers are worried. Protestors are planning to take to the streets in mid-November


    EUROPEAN SCIENCE PRIZE. Dennis Bray, a cell biologist at the University of Cambridge, has won the $320,000 European Science award given out jointly by U.K.'s Royal Society and the French Academy of Science. Bray wins the prize for using computer simulations to explore how bacteria detect and respond to chemical changes in their environment.


    MATH PRIZE. Ramdorai Sujatha of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, has won the $10,000 Ramanujan Prize awarded by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Sujatha, 44, receives the award for her contributions to algebraic geometry.



    DEGREE-GRANTING MUSEUM. As provost of science at the American Museum of Natural History, paleontologist Michael Novacek (above) has advised dozens of graduate students from New York universities who use the museum's collections for research. Now he's taking the museum's educational mission a step further by helping to launch its own graduate program.

    The Richard Gilder Graduate School will be the first museum-based degree-granting institution in the country. Named for a Wall Street stockbroker and museum trustee whose foundation provided a portion of the initial $50 million endowment, the school hopes to admit its first four students in fall 2008 and grow to 20 students in 4 years. The program's focus on comparative biology, ranging from diversity in DNA sequences to variation in fossils of dinosaurs, humans, and other organisms, contrasts with traditional graduate programs' concentration on diversity within single groups of living organisms.

    Museum curators are being encouraged, but not required, to teach a series of core courses in evolution and systematic and comparative biology, says Novacek, on the theory that “the presence of students makes us better scientists.” The creation of the program “is a powerful statement about the importance of comparative and evolutionary biology in today's world,” says paleontologist Neil Shubin of the Field Museum in Chicago.