Science  23 Sep 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5743, pp. 1975
  1. To the Moon, Again

    Four astronauts will travel to the moon for a week as early as 2018 using a new rocket system that NASA chief Michael Griffin calls “Apollo on steroids.”

    This week, Griffin laid out the space agency's plans to spend $104 billion for a return trip to the lunar surface. The plan for the first trip, which the White House recently approved after months of wrangling, includes building a new crew launcher by 2014. The launcher, combining expendable rocket and space shuttle components, would initially carry crew or cargo to the international space station. Then it would be converted to a lunar-bound vehicle, one that Griffin says would be 10 times safer than the current shuttle. A heavy-lift vehicle would follow to provide components for a moon landing and for possible flights to Mars.

    At a press conference this week at NASA headquarters, Griffin pledged that “not one thin dime” of science money would be diverted into the space-flight effort. The lunar focus “is a huge opportunity for science,” he said, adding, “I believe the global space science community will want to take advantage of that.” Lawmakers say they will want far more details on funding; Griffin says savings will come from scaling back the current space-flight program.

  2. Endangered Species Act Targeted

    A powerful critic of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) introduced a bill in Congress this week designed to substantially loosen the act's restrictions on land- owners and businesses. Environmentalists say the measure would cripple protections for imperiled organisms.

    The proposal, by House Resources Committee chair Richard Pombo (R-CA), would ease regulations by allowing, for example, projects that might harm endangered species to go forward unless federal agencies object. The bill would also set higher scientific standards for listing species under the act and would repeal a section that designates critical habitat, a source of many environmental lawsuits. Pombo, who argues that the act hurts while not effectively protecting species, is also proposing compensation for landowners prohibited from developing by the ESA.

    The legislation is expected to face an easier time in the House than in the Senate, which has traditionally been less eager to undo ESA protections.

  3. U.S. Tackles Bird Flu

    The Bush Administration says it is getting serious about avian influenza. In a 14 September speech to the United Nations, President George W. Bush announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza that “requires countries that face an outbreak to immediately share information and provide samples to the World Health Organization [WHO].” The Department of Health and Human Services also promised technical and medical assistance to Southeast Asian nations and has announced a $100 million purchase of vaccine to combat the H5N1 bird flu virus, the leading pandemic candidate.

    “We welcome the U.S. initiative,” says Peter Cordingley, a spokesperson for WHO's Regional Office for the Western Pacific. He adds, however, that “the devil will be in the details.” A key question is whether China will participate.

  4. Japan and Singapore Link Up

    Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research and Japan's RIKEN research agency agreed last week to exchange scientists, share research materials and information, and promote joint research projects. “[W]e need to expand cooperative efforts and relations with Asian nations,” says RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori. Although details are still emerging, neuroscience, cancer drug targets, and environmental pathogens relevant to Asia will be three areas of focus for the partnership.

  5. On Tap: HapMap

    The comprehensive catalog of human genetic variation, known as HapMap, will be published on schedule in October, officials announced last week. The $135 million public-private effort has identified 3.6 million bases across the human genome that vary from population to population and also from individual to individual. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, the results should save geneticists a bundle by reducing the multimillion-dollar cost of seeking a disease gene about 30-fold. “In some ways, [HapMap] will have a bigger impact than the sequence did,” says Jeffrey Murray, a geneticist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

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