These are archived versions of Cosmic Log entries, rescued from search engines, Archive.org and other sources. This archive is incomplete, due to the fact that many items were lost as they were shifted from one archive to another, and sometimes into oblivion. Many links and other features may be nonfunctional. For linking purposes, the highlighted bold-faced date on each item serves as the permalink for that specific item.
May 13, 2002
“My name is Destiny, and it is my Fate to walk alone throughout eternity and observe the follies and mysteries of mankind, and to note them all in the cosmic log.”
— Weird Mystery Tales #1
Pulse-pounding first issue! A long time ago, in a comic book universe far away, a character named Destiny roamed through the pulp pages with a book called the “Cosmic Log” handcuffed to his wrist. Today I’m putting the handcuffs on: This is the first entry of a Web log on science and exploration.
To be sure, there’ll be follies and mysteries aplenty, but this “Cosmic Log” will also provide updates on continuing stories, advance word of live Webcasts, cool news from around the Web, and your feedback on cosmic highlights and lowlights.
I realize Web logging — or “blogging,” for short — is old hat for the Net’s trendsetters. But for me and my colleagues at MSNBC.com, this is very much an experiment, and a not-too-scientific one at that. It could blow up in my face. The old handcuffs could quickly chafe my wrists. Or you just might not find this interesting enough to tune in every day. If so, this show could get canceled quicker than you can say “Emeril.” Even Weird Mystery Tales lasted for just 25 issues. So let me know how I’m doing, let me in on your suggestions, and let the follies begin.
May 13, 2002 / 8 p.m. ET
Bye, bye, bye: Destiny Productions’ David Krieff confirms that ‘NSync singer Lance Bass is on a plane to Moscow for his final round of cosmonaut medical tests. Krieff is working on a TV deal that could make Bass, 23, the world’s youngest astronaut and the first celebrity in space. A news conference is planned next week. Read the most recent wrapup.
May 13, 2002 / 5 p.m. ET
Mars or bust: SpaceRef has posted the prepared text for testimony by Ty McCoy, chairman of the Space Transportation Association, calling for a Kennedyesque commitment to put humans on Mars by the end of the next decade. NASA and the White House have been nervous about setting that kind of goal, especially now, in light of the space station’s financial snags. McCoy, a highly regarded space executive, is due to make his plea Tuesday to the U.S. Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry. (The initial version of this item incorrectly implied the testimony was being given to Congress.)
May 13, 2002 / 3 p.m. ET
Dino-nopia? ABC-TV’s “Dinotopia” hasn’t been a monster hit with the critics, but if you leave aside the real-life objections that dinosaurs couldn’t talk and went extinct long before humans entered the scene, how does it rate as a work of paleontology? Wasn’t that troodon supposed to have three fingers instead of four? Why don’t those theropods have feathers? Check out the chatter on the Dinosaur mailing list archive by doing a search on “Dinotopia.” You can also dig up my article from last year about Hollywood dino-anatomy.
May 13, 2002 / 3 p.m. ET
Addition to the sky show: A nifty planetary gathering has been visible for days just after sunset, but if you have clear western skies this week you should be able to see the crescent moon take its place among Venus, Mars, Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter.
May 13, 2002 / 3 p.m. ET
The answer to the ultimate question: Tuesday marks the long-awaited publication of “A New Kind of Science,” controversial math whiz Stephen Wolfram’s magnum opus. According to a profile of Wolfram in June’s issue of Wired, the book’s stunning main theme is that all the complexity of the cosmos can be reduced to simple computational code. I wonder whether there might be a fallacy at work here similar to what we saw with the Bible Code debate — that is, reverse-engineering a huge amount of data to find a computational system that’s consistent with those data, and then turning around to claim that the system actually determines how the data come out. Since the tome weighs in at 1,192 pages (costing just a little more than $42), it could take a while to decide whether it represents a new kind of science … or a new kind of doorstop.
May 13, 2002 / More weirdness and wonders on the Web:
N.Y. Daily News: Michael Jackson in space?
Telegraph: Are strange-quark missiles blasting Earth?
Wired News: Do “lifters” defy gravity?
New York Times: NASA scrounges for old parts on eBay
SpaceRef: Let’s stop going in circles in space
PPARC: Stars that eat stars hold clues to Big Bang
May 14, 2002
“You must not belief [sic] in God. So the only place for you to go is hell. Sorry, there is a lot of dummies like you.
– From the mailbag
Renewed volleys in the evolution debate: Writing about the origins of the universe or the origin of species is a surefire way to spark a flurry of flame e-mail — like the above message, which came in response to a recent article about alternatives to the Big Bang theory.
The flames demonstrate how deep those basic questions about our origins still go. That kind of visceral response just might be stirred up again starting tonight, with the PBS-TV series “Evolution” rolling back onto airwaves across the country.
When the seven-part series first aired last year, it sparked waves of counterarguments and counter-counterarguments. The folks who regularly watch “Nova” might think that the debate over Darwinism is pretty much settled — but in the court of public opinion, the jury is very much out. Surveys tend to show that if Americans were forced to make a choice between creationism and evolution, most of them would choose creationism. There’s even a debate over whether a recently enacted federal law does or does not call for the questioning of evolutionary theory.
I think reviewing the evidence behind even well-established theories is a healthy process, although that review shouldn’t leave the impression that the evidence for evolutionary theory is weak. Just last month,studies of Galapagos finches provided more support, although creationists will try to explain it away as a case of microevolution vs. macroevolution.
If you need more input, click over to this archived article about human origins on the Web, and be sure to follow the links. As always, I’m interested in what you have to say. But don’t bother to mail me videos or tracts — I’m already working my way through Kent Hovind’s creation science videos as well as the “Evolution” series.
May 14, 2002 / 8 p.m. ET
Cloning complications: The U.S. Senate has decided to put off its big debate over stem-cell research and human cloning, which had been scheduled for the latter part of May. The scientific debate over cloning continues, however: Research published in Wednesday’s issue of Genes & Development indicates that a key gene called Oct4 determines whether a cloned mouse embryo will be viable — and that the gene works right in only 10 percent of those embryos. In contrast, the gene doesn’t create a problem for the naturally conceived progeny of Mr. and Mrs. Mouse. All this raises one more mysterious obstacle to reproductive human cloning. Read the releases from the University of Pennsylvania and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
May 14, 2002 / 8 p.m. ET
Moving day: In case you haven’t noticed, MSNBC.com’s science coverage has now become part of a reorganized Technology & Science section. We’ll keep a link from the News section just in case you get lost. Space news has been part of the Tech section for a couple of years now and remains in Tech & Science.
May 14, 2002 / 6 p.m. ET
Astronauts in deep water: Three NASA astronauts and a trainer will be the stars in a Webcast at noon ET Wednesday from what surely must be the closest thing to a space station on Earth: the Aquarius underwater habitat, 60 feet under the ocean surface in the Florida Keys. Underwater training is a big part of an astronaut’s education — witness the experience of Scott Carpenter back in 1965, as well as present-day neutral buoyancy labs in America and Russia. This month’s nine-day Aquarius mission is designed to prepare the astronauts for life on the space station.
May 14, 2002 / 2 p.m. ET
Who’s a genetic Jew? An analysis of DNA from nine far-flung Jewish communities hints that male ancestry points to a common Semitic gene pool, while female ancestry is grounded in local populations, according to The New York Times. The study could shed new light on the “who’s a Jew?” debate. To learn more about how your ancestry is encoded in your DNA, check out this cool interactive or delve into our special section on “Genetic Genealogy.”
May 14, 2002 / More scientific stops on the Web:
Ananova: Could DNA tests track down living Incas?
Eurekalert: Maybe “junk DNA” isn’t junk after all
BBC: Solar sail on track for autumn launch
CollectSpace: The world’s rarest space autographs
New York Times: Pentagon trains bomb-sniffing honeybees
May 15, 2002
Countdown to the “Clones”: Obviously the thousands standing in lines for the midnight premiere of “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones” aren’t there for scientific revelations. But over the past 25 years, the “Star Wars” sagas have become so ingrained in our cultural psyche that some of us almost take the real-life inevitability of interstellar travel, extraterrestrial life and exotic space weapons for granted.
I’ve revived an article I put together in 1999 on that subject, just in case you missed it. In the three years since then, we’ve gone even further along the road toward real-life space weaponry. The Federation of American Scientists has a good roundup on space-based laser weapons, and there’s a site devoted to airborne laser weapons as well. No lightsabers yet, though.
The years since “Phantom Menace” have also brought more hope to astronomers hunting for Earthlike planets (like Coruscant, perhaps?). Nature’s Web site notes a study estimating that one in three Earthlike planets could harbor life — although that’s based on a calculation using Drake’s Equation, which tends to tell more about your own E.T. assumptions than observational facts.
Finally, this latest installment of “Star Wars” plays up the cloning angle, which rates at the top of today’s biomedical policy agenda. A House subcommittee conducted a hearing on the issue just today.
As previously noted, efficient cloning is turning out to be harder than some people thought. Because of the scientific as well as the legal and ethical obstacles, it may turn out that the cloning vats of Kamino will remain as fantastical as the faster-than-light Millennium Falcon.
May 15, 2002 / 10 p.m. ET
Women on Mars: Five of the women involved in planning for NASA’s 2003 Mars Exploration Rover missions will participate in a Webcast at 5 p.m. ET Thursday. You’ll be able to watch the video or listen to audio, and even participate in a real-time chat with scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as a student in the LAPIS 3 educational program.
May 15, 2002 / 8 p.m. ET
Red Planet blueprint for 2022: SpaceRef has posted the text of Rep. Nick Lampson’s Space Exploration Act of 2002, which calls for NASA to develop a space transportation system capable of taking humans to Mars in 20 years. You’ll also find press releases from Lampson, a Texas Democrat whose district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and from Democrats on the House Science Committee. The bill comes amid a wider debate over NASA’s vision for the future. If there’s no vision — whether it’s going to Mars, or identifying other Earths, or some other grand purpose — then what’s the point?
May 15, 2002 / 3 p.m. ET
Are we exploring Mars yet? The Mars Society’s desert simulation of a human mission to Mars concluded last week after a three-month research season in Utah. The project has been written up in a number of august publications, including MSNBC.com. But one of the highest accolades may have come today: The desert habitat is featured in the cult comic “Zippy the Pinhead.”
May 15, 2002 / 2 p.m. ET
Spin control: Spintronics sounds like another made-up technology for “Star Wars,” but it could actually bring low-power, instant-on devices out of the realm of science fiction. Scientific American features an extensive cover story on the subject, and you can still check out our November offering from the journal Science.
May 15, 2002 / More jumps into scientific hyperspace:
Boston Globe: At MIT, they can put words in our mouths
New Scientist: Stringless violin adds soul to computer music
Air & Space: ‘Rocket Boy’ launches Barbie doll
Navarrone: Home-brewed Tesla coil zaps quarters
NASA: Winds rip through the sun’s atmosphere
May 16, 2002
Robo-blogs to the rescue: Could Web logs have headed off Sept. 11? Not likely … but in the future, better tools for working with networked information could put together the puzzle pieces pointing to a potential threat more quickly.
The question of the day has to do with what the Bush administration knew and when did it know it. Now the White House acknowledges that it was warned about the potential for al-Qaida hijackings, but says it couldn’t have known the hijacked planes would be used as missiles.
However, it was well-known that Algerian hijackers planned just such an attack on the Eiffel Tower in 1994, and that al-Qaida considered crashing a small plane into CIA headquarters in 1993. (There are hints that the airliner that went down in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 might have been aiming for the CIA.)
Suppose there were internal logs of such reports — as well as other bits of information such as the arrest last August of Zacarias Moussaoui, now alleged to be a hijack conspirator. And suppose a search engine could index and rank those logs, just as Blogdex and Daypop do for civilian-issue Web logs. Could a robo-blog have helped intelligence analysts make the connections? For all I know, the spooks already have such a system.
Notre Dame physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, author of the new book “Linked,” says the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the Bush administration’s response drew upon the key lessons of network theory: If you want to bring down a distributed network, start by taking out the hubs. But you can’t just stop with the main hub, whether that’s the World Trade Center or Tora Bora. You have to map out how the disruption affects the network, then go after the next layer of hubs.
“If we go systematically down the hubs, then we have a chance of breaking it,” Barabasi told me. “The major problem is we don’t know the topology of the network.”
Barabasi is guessing that U.S. intelligence is collecting the raw data needed to get a good idea of al-Qaida’s size and structure. But even if al-Qaida is driven into the dust, network theory dictates that the war on terrorism won’t be finished.
“Essentially, another al-Qaida — which may not be as well-organized — will try to emerge,” he said. “What we should really do is somehow stop the conditions that lead to the emergence of this network.”
You don’t need to be a physicist to figure that one out.
May 16, 2002 / 9:30 p.m. ET
‘N Sync’s Lance Bass goes through surgery in space bid: The 23-year-old would-be space traveler had a “small surgical procedure” done earlier this month in Boston to correct an irregular heartbeat, his publicist says. This’ll become part of the update promised below.
May 16, 2002 / 6 p.m. ET
‘AstroMom’ packs for Moscow: Lori Garver, the former NASA official who is hoping to become the third passenger to visit the international space station, tells MSNBC.com that she’s leaving for her final medical tests in Moscow on Saturday — and that she expects an up-or-down decision by May 31. The current story on Garver and her “fellow traveler,” ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass, will be updated later today.
May 16, 2002 / 6 p.m. ET
Evolving view: A reader felt my previous posting on evolutionary theory left the mistaken impression that creationists didn’t accept natural selection as a fact of life. I’ve amended the posting to make it more general — saying that the evidence for evolutionary theory in general, including Darwinian ideas on the role of mutation, is far from weak.
May 16, 2002 / 2 p.m. ET
‘Star Wars’ fans strike back: It didn’t take long for folks to respond to my take on “Star Wars” science. One reader took me to task for dissing faster-than-light travel. “I’m not even a scientist and even I know that Einstein’s constant has been disproved,” he said, pointing to research into whether light can go slower or faster than we think. Einstein hasn’t been thrown down yet, gentle reader, as I hope my stories and this additional information will demonstrate.
Another questioned my discussion of the mechanics behind a lightsaber. “The reason that the laser beam on a lightsaber only extends as far as it does is because it is contained by a force field,” said the reader. “That force field gives the beam on a lightsaber its shape. That force field is also what causes the lightsaber to deflect shots from a laser blaster as well as repel the attacks of another lightsaber.”
Thanks for clearing that up.
To find out how a lightsaber works in Hollywood’s alternate universe, check out this down-to-earth explanation from “How Stuff Works.”
May 16, 2002 / 2 p.m. ET
Speaking of feedback … The whole infrastructure of Web logs involves something of a learning curve here at MSNBC.com, including the creation of a nicer mechanism for sending feedback to “Cosmic Log.” From now on, please send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 16, 2002 / More weird emanations from the Web:
The Register: Gummi Bears can defeat fingerprint ID systems
Discovery.com: Russians breed jackal-dogs for airport security
UniSci: New book contemplates ‘Future of Spacetime’
University at Buffalo: Scientists create the right stuff for spintronics
University of Florida: Nanomotor made from a single molecule
May 17, 2002
Where were you when the volcano blew? Twenty-two years ago Saturday, Mount St. Helens’ eruption brought home the risks posed by the Ring of Fire — pretty much literally, in my case, even though at the time I was living about 300 miles away in Spokane. (Yes, I still have my mayonnaise jar full of ash sitting in the garage.)
Today, the mountain has bounced back to such an extent that the snowmobilers are stirring up powder and controversy again. Click on this 20th-anniversary interactive and this 360-degree gallery to get a sense of before-and-after. And to see how the mountain is doing right now, check out the Johnston Ridge Observatory’s Volcano Cam.
May 17, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
Cosmic chat: Is there room in this world for both God and Darwin? You can go toe-to-toe on that question with Brown University Professor Kenneth Miller during an MSNBC.com chat at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. Miller, one of the experts who participated in the PBS television series “Evolution,” says he is a devout Catholic as well as a devout evolutionary biologist. Amen to that. See you at the chat.
May 17, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
Constant updates: The BBC weighs in on whether a cosmic constant — known as alpha, or the fine structure constant — might have been different in the early universe. Studies on this problem go back at leastfour years, and if the findings continue to hold up, that could imply there’s something fundamentally askew in our understanding of how the cosmos works. Creationists might argue that this supports their view of a “young universe” that’s only thousands of years old, but it seems to me there’s enough weirdness in cosmological theory to explain the findings without requiring an appeal to divine providence.
May 17, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
I want my space TV: Watch a 15-second video clip of the Leonid meteor shower, as seen from above on the international space station. Starting at 9 a.m. ET Monday, you can tune in a daylong NASA briefingabout the next shuttle mission, due for launch May 30.
May 17, 2002 / Weekend field trips on the Web:
Weekly Standard: Everything you know about ‘Star Wars’ is wrong
BBC: Astronomers hear the music of a star
UniSci: Is our consciousness an electromagnetic field?
Scripps Research Institute: ‘Warm to the touch’ gene discovered
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Professor says humans evolved … to gossip
May 18, 2002 / 4 p.m. ET
Aurora alert: The sun erupted in a storm known as a coronal mass ejection on Thursday, and although it wasn’t particularly strong, the blast could create a celestial sky show. “Sky watchers — particularly those in northern Europe, Canada and across the northern tier of U.S. states — should be alert for auroras after local nightfall this weekend,” reports SpaceWeather.com, one of your best sources for cosmic weather reports.
May 20, 2002 / 11:30 p.m. ET
Space gossip: ‘NSync singer Lance Bass and former NASA official Lori Garver are reportedly swapping stories in Moscow over their own medical tests — and looking forward to completing the final go-round on the centrifuge later this week. They’ll likely get medical clearance for a space station flight in the fall, but will they have the necessary money from sponsors and a TV network? Radio Shack is known to be one of the big sponsors. Meanwhile, Keith Cowing of NASA Watch and SpaceRef reports that talks on a TV deal have shifted from NBC to CBS. Several observers are betting there’ll be no amateur astronaut on the next Soyuz flight. That would come as welcome news to readers who have already told me I’m writing way too much about this space tourism deal.
May 20, 2002 / More marvels from the depths of the Web:
New York Times: Maya relics found in underground river
NOAA: Follow an underwater expedition
Eurekalert: Prehistoric footpaths lure archaeologists back to Costa Rica
May 20, 2002
Silence of the Cyborg: Two months ago, I wrote about the latest experiment by Kevin Warwick, the British researcher who had a chip implanted in his arm as part of his long-running project to become the world’s first full-fledged “cyborg.” Warwick hoped to record, and even replicate, the neural impulses that controlled his muscles.
I caught some flak from skeptics who felt I was too easy on the professor, who has received a lot of publicity over the past few years. So it seemed like a good idea to do a reality check now that Warwick’s experiment was well under way.
Not long after leaving a message on his voicemail, I got a callback from Cassie Chadderton at Random House UK — who told me Warwick wouldn’t be available for interviews.
“Kevin’s work and the experiments are under heavy embargo at the moment,” she said. “They will be published in August, in his book.”
Chadderton did confirm that the implant hasn’t gone haywire. “It’s still there and still working,” she told me. “And as far as I know, the experiments are going well.”
So there you are. I’m uneasy about being kept in the dark about such a ballyhooed project just because of a book deal. And when Chadderton told me The Mail on Sunday had arranged its own exclusive to publish updates on Warwick’s work, I felt additional unease over whether this was a case of checkbook science.
Such deals are OK for media-friendly expeditions to Everest or into space. But this scientific venture should either be opened to wider public airing or held back for deliberative peer review. That’s just my opinion … what do you think?
Actually, the “world exclusive” story appearing April 21 in The Mail sounded quite positive about Warwick’s progress, indicating that a computer was able to recognize the impulses behind his hand movements and replicate them with a robotic hand. That story isn’t currently online, but this breezier version in The Mail’s sister paper, Metro, gives you some of the flavor.
May 20, 2002 / 3:30 p.m. ET
The Ex-Files: Is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth finally out there? Are you kidding? The series finale of “The X-Files” made a heroic effort to explain how alien oil, the rebel aliens, the old syndicate and the new conspiracy over “supersoldiers” fit together. But in the end, we still have Mulder and Scully, Doggett and Reyes, Skinner and even a kinder, gentler Kersh primed for the next “X-Files” movie.
It looks like Cigarette-Smoking Man is really, most sincerely dead, however — after his surprise resurrection for, um, the third time? CSM’s final scene with Mulder and Scully was the high point for me. Scully: “I hoped and prayed you were dead, you chain-smoking son of a bitch!” CSM’s reply: “You’ll waste your time. Ask Mulder. He knows the futility of hopes and prayers. You have told her the truth … didn’t you, Fox?”
Slashdot has a good thread going about the “X-Files” endgame. But the game is by no means at its end, and maybe the old gang will still be around for the Mayan doomsday in 2012. By the way, this interactive provides a rundown of past and future doomsdays.
Looking beyond the TV show, the e-mail I’m receiving about “Star Trek” technology indicates that at least some of you believe the conspiracy is real. “We are a backwards and suppressed society,” Justin writes, “and things like zero point energy and antigravity are outlawed because of the oil tycoons.”
If the truth really is out there, clue me in.
May 21, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
Messages from Professor Cyborg: Kevin Warwick, the University of Reading cybernetics professor who has been wired up with a bionic arm, reports that his “project is very much going well and we are learning a lot from it” — and that his research will be submitted to scientific journals.
That update comes in the wake of Monday’s item, talking about Warwick’s research and the fact that juicy details were being held back for a book due to be published in August.
In today’s e-mail exchange, Warwick says that “I, Cyborg” will be a biography, while “the bulk of what we are doing will be published in reputable journals — as long as it is accepted.”
Warwick also says it’s understandable that some in the cybernetics field would be skeptical of his bionic ambitions.
“In reality, I don’t see how anyone (myself included) could have had much idea at all, a couple of months ago, exactly how well it was all going to work — that was the whole point of doing it, to find out,” he says.
The professor says he and his colleagues “are getting some very useful results, hence for most of the time I have my head down working on the project. … As you correctly point out, if it wasn’t going anywhere, then I might as well have had the implant removed a day or two after it was put in place.”
To keep up with the bionic frontier, check in with Neuroprosthesis News.
May 21, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
‘Evolution’ reminder: Remember to stop by for today’s 7 p.m. ET chat with Brown University evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller. The event is particularly timely in light of biologist/author Stephen Jay Gould’s death on Monday.
May 21, 2002 / More emanations from the Web:
NASA: What happens when a water balloon pops in zero-gravity?
U.S. News & World Report: Could gas hydrates solve energy woes?
Eurekalert: Bacteria in Mammoth Cave might yield anti-cancer drug
May 22, 2002
Cosmic news alert: SpaceRef’s Keith Cowing reports that the space agency is gearing up for major news about further evidence of massive subsurface water ice on Mars. NASA has already scheduled a May 30 news briefing to announce findings from Mars Odyssey, its latest mission to the Red Planet. That timing would mesh with the publication of research in the prestigious journal Science.
An Albuquerque Tribune article offers more clues, hinting that water ice might be found at a depth of about 3 feet, or 1 meter, over wide areas of the Red Planet. (Link courtesy of Alex Blackwell’s posting at theHabitable Zone.)
Odyssey’s instruments are capable of detecting the signature of ice and minerals beneath the surface of Mars, and they have already sent back intriguing findings that hint at large deposits of water ice in southern Mars. Discovering lots of ice would bring a smile to the faces of those who hope to find evidence of past or current life on Mars, or who have their hearts set on colonizing the planet someday.
There are other big announcements on the horizon: On Thursday, leading astronomers will reveal their latest findings on the content and structure of the early universe from the Cosmic Background Imager, an interferometer set up in the Chilean desert with funding from the National Science Foundation and the California Institute of Technology. Among the luminaries will be MIT physicist Alan Guth, one of the pioneers behind inflationary big bang theory.
May 22, 2002 / Updated 5 p.m. ET
Countdown on hold: ‘NSync singer Lance Bass, who is hoping to become the first celebrity in space this fall, had to delay his final medical tests in Moscow because he was suffering from a cold, according to a report on Gazeta.ru. That squares with other reports filtering back from Moscow — and means we won’t hear until next week whether the Russians will give Bass, former NASA official Lori Garver or some other would-be space passenger the go-ahead to begin training.
Bass and Garver plan to stay in Moscow until they get the thumbs-up or thumbs-down — a decision that depends as much on their financial backing as on their medical fitness. Sergei Gorbunov, the pessimistic spokesman for the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, is quoted as saying the chances of an amateur flying to the international space station this fall are “close to zero.”
Meanwhile, ‘NSync fans say Bass is planning to meet on Friday with President Bush amid the U.S.-Russian arms summit. NBC News’ Moscow team reports that Bass isn’t listed on the formal agenda, but he could be part of a group of Americans who will be seeing Bush on that day.
May 22, 2002 / Updated 5 p.m. ET
Irony of ironies! Wouldn’t you know all this is going on when I’m due to start a vacation? Beginning Thursday, I’ll be on the road to Denver, the Belgian city of Bruges and London. I’ll send you some virtual post cards and try as best I can to keep up with the cosmos and your mail — not necessarily in that order.
May 22, 2002 / Updated 5 p.m. ET
A glitch at Google Labs: Just this week, the Internet’s dominant search engine opened up an online playground where users could try out new technologies like an online glossary and search-by-phone. For a while on Wednesday, Google Labs went offline — perhaps because of all the Web traffic flooding to the site — but the lab is now open for business again.
May 22, 2002 / 2:30 p.m. ET
Past and future chats: About 40 of you showed up for Tuesday’s chat with evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller, and there was plenty of grist for creationists, Darwinists and everyone in between. A quote from Miller: “I don’t believe that the Bible and science are incompatible so long as one remembers that the Bible was written in a pre-scientific age, and therefore it would be inappropriate to judge the Bible by the standards that today we apply to science. That does not mean in my view, that the Bible is not ‘true.’ As a believer I think the Bible is true, but I also do not regard it as a work of science.” Looking for another controversial chat on a cosmic subject? Log in for a session with political analyst Francis Fukuyama on “Our Posthuman Future” at 2 p.m. ET Friday.
May 22, 2002 / More eye-catchers on the Web:
Eurekalert: Insect yields clues to evolution of species
Tech Central Station: Why not try turning Mars into another Earth?
Internet.com: Google and Dilbert team up for logo redesign
BBC: The evolution of supercats
May 23, 2002 / 1 a.m. ET
How did Chandra die? The discovery of Washington intern Chandra Levy’s remains has revived one of America’s biggest pre-Sept. 11 obsessions — turning a year-old missing-persons case into what’s likely to be an intensely debated murder investigation. But how much can forensic scientists learn from skeletal remains that may have been weathered by a year’s exposure to the elements?
“It’s a challenge, there’s no question about it,” says John Burris, an Oakland defense attorney who has been through some high-profile cases of his own.
The most critical task would be to determine the cause of death: Do the remains show evidence of a gunshot, or a blow from a blunt object, or stabbing, or strangulation? The task will be difficult if the soft tissues are gone, but even certain types of damage to the bones — cracks in the skull, puncture marks or chips, characteristic breaks in the bones of the neck — could provide clues.
“You’ve got to determine, if you can, the condition around where the remains (were found),” said Burris, “whether or not the remains were there for an extended period of time, or whether they were moved there.”
Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science and associate provost at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says an extensive analysis of the crime scene will be key — even though the long gap between the death and the discovery greatly reduces the chances of a breakthrough.
“You may turn up something on that scene that will open up the case,” he said Wednesday on MSNBC cable. The evidence could be as dramatic as a blood-stained weapon or as subtle as an article of clothing or a telltale hair. In any case, Burris says discovering the body provides “a major starting point” for a renewed investigation.
“At least you can go back to parties that were interviewed at the outset, to see whether there’s anything around the body that would corroborate or not corroborate what they said.”
First posted May 20 / Updated May 23, 1 a.m. ET
No sale for spaced-out adventure: How much would you pay to go on the penultimate space adventure? Not the ultimate adventure, mind you — that would be actually going on a space flight — but the earthly preparations for the ultimate: several G’s on a Russian centrifuge, a zero-gravity flight on a “vomit comet” airplane, underwater training and the kind of medical exam that could send you running to get your gallbladder taken out.
That confusion is why the auction ended early, with no sale.
The auction was organized in conjunction with the eBay Motors Air Show by a company called Flight Technologies, in cooperation with Space Adventures, the Virginia-based company that organized the flights of space millionaires Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth. According to the posting, profits from the sale would go to the Deane F. Johnson Alzheimer’s Foundation.
By late Monday, the bidding was up to nearly the $20 million published cost of a space flight. Space Adventures said that some of the bids were bogus, and that other bidders may have assumed they were paying for an actual space flight. Tereza Predescu, a spokeswoman for Space Adventures, said a flight opportunity wouldn’t be offered on eBay, since so much depends on medical qualifications, the Russian space agency’s standards and other factors.
Space Adventures worked with eBay, Flight Technologies and TransRow, which is supposed to qualify the bidders, to make sure that the bidders were for real and that they knew what they would be getting. Robert Pearlman of Space Adventures said bidders were allowed to retract their bids if they misunderstood the terms.
“We’d love to think that our orbital prequalification is worth $4 million,” he said, “but it is a $200,000 experience.” As the week wore on, the top bid drifted downward from nearly $20 million to $6 million, then to $3 million. By late Wednesday, the auction was called off — with the reserve price remaining unmet.
Predescu said eBay finally shut down the auction because of the confusion over what was originally billed as an “International Space Station Experience.”
“The way it read, it was misleading,” she said Wednesday night.
Other offerings from Space Adventures, however, were still available, including a zero-gravity airplane flight.
May 23, 2002 / More explorations on the Web:
National Science Foundation: See rare pictures of the South Pole’s aurora
Wired: Afghanistan’s lost Buddhas reconstructed in virtual reality
Transterrestrial Musings: Questions and answers on evolution
May 24, 2002 / 8:30 p.m. ET
Will Lance or Lori launch? There’s a 70 to 80 percent chance that an amateur astronaut will be flying up to the international space station this fall, Russian space chief Yuri Koptev says in an Interfax report passed along by space journalist James Oberg. But will it be Lance Bass (of ‘NSync boy-band fame) or Lori Garver (“AstroMom” and former NASA official)?
Koptev is quoted as saying three candidates have been certified, including a Russian, an Australian and one other prospect. Russia’s Itar/Tass news agency also mentions a Russian and an Australian, but says they would have to wait at least a year for their flight opportunities.
Bass and Garver have not yet been given the official cosmonaut stamp of approval by medical experts, and that may be why Koptev downplayed their bids. A decision on medical fitness is expected May 31. Financial negotiations over the project are continuing, and will likely be as crucial as the medical exams. The only known sponsor for the Bass’ bid is RadioShack, which has been footing the bill for the pop singer’s medical tests.
Amid the waiting and the speculation, you can get a sneak preview of Garver’s “AstroMom” Web site, which should be available as http://www.astromom.net by Monday. There’s already at least one fan site for Bass’ bid, and “Lance in Space” is promising to launch soon — presumably before Bass launches.
I appreciate the feedback from those of you who want to hear more about the Lance-and-Lori adventure. “My daughter has always talked about being a member of the first colony on Mars … she is also an ‘NSync fan,” Susan writes. “We are very interested in your continuing coverage of Lance and Lori. We’re really hoping Lance gets the network backing, and since my husband works at RadioShack, we feel very much a part of it all!” As for those who aren’t as in sync — I hope you’ll be able to weather these occasional doses of space gossip.
May 24, 2002 / 8:30 p.m. ET
Post card from Denver The Mile-High City is the first stop in my version of “Where in the World Is Cosmic Log?” Imagine my surprise to wake up and see newfallen snow on the ground for the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend! The weather is supposed to get up into the 80s next week, but by then I’ll be at the World Newspaper Congress in Bruges, a storybook Belgian town near Brussels. Don’t be surprised if you hear a little about the future of newspapers in next week’s postings.
May 24, 2002 / 8:30 p.m. ET
Web field trips for Memorial Day Weekend:
New Scientist: Supernova poised to go off near Earth
Discovery.com: Has the king of Stonehenge been found?
Ohio State University: New amino acid discovered
May 28, 2002 / 11 a.m. ET
‘Star Wars’ sequel: The saga of “Star Wars” technology continues to fill the e-mailbox. Christopher writes, “Why does ‘Star Trek’ always take a back seat to ‘Star Wars’ when it comes to scientific discussions?”
I’m a journalist, not a film critic — but it could be that “Star Trek” is driven more by the interplay of the characters, with the technology in the background. In contrast, the video-game chases and battles put the technological mysteries front and center in the “Star Wars” movies, right up there with the mystery of how that nice Skywalker boy will someday turn into Darth Vader.
“Star Trek” has certain spawned its share of technological treatises, and if you were to take a poll of top scientists such as Stephen Hawking (who is proud of his “Next Generation” guest shot), you just might find that “Star Trek” comes out on top. When the next “Star Trek” movie is released, I promise to give quantum teleportation, wormholes and holodeck-level virtual reality their due.
If you’re raring for a good “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” debate — or just a good laugh — check out this fan site devoted to the supremacy of the Galactic Empire. Incidentally, when I finally saw “Attack of the Clones” over the Memorial Day weekend, I noticed another science-fiction technology that’s on the edge of science reality. One of the bad guys unfurls a solar sail to make his space getaway – and you can find out more about Cosmos 1, a solar-sail experiment that’s nearing its climax, from the Planetary Society Web site.
May 28, 2002 / 7 a.m. ET
Post card from Bruges: I’m settled in at the next stop of the Cosmic Log tour, in the quintessentially European city of Bruges. This Belgian burg is known for its Old World charm, horsedrawn carriages, Amsterdam-style canals, Flemish art, tapestries, lace and chocolate. It’s not known for its easy Internet access, however. I’m having to relay these postings through some one-way access lanes on the information superhighway. Bear with me while I get up and running, and keep those cards and letters coming.
May 29, 2002 / 10 a.m. ET
Postcard from Brussels: I tagged along with newspaper executives from around the world on Tuesday to visit the European Parliament building and hear the European Union’s take on the information revolution.
European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen of Finland said the EU is working on a new framework for electronic communications, in light of the rapid rise blending of the Internet and television. “We are convinced that if we want to create an ‘Internet for All,’ a television set is essential,” he said.
You can learn more about the brave new world of media convergence by checking with the World Association of Newspapers, which sponsored this week’s gathering in Brussels and Bruges.
I can hardly wait for international Internet access to get easier. I paid my first visit to an Internet automat in Bruges today, but the place closed down at 2 in the afternoon. An hour of computer time cost only 3 euros — but I needed a good chunk of that time to figure out how to type a backslash on the darn European keyboard.
May 30, 2002 / 2:03 p.m. ET
Ready or not? ‘NSync boy-band singer Lance Bass, fellow would-be space flier Lori Garver and RadioShack exec Jim McDonald will talk about the effort to launch Bass or Garver to the international space station this fall during a Moscow news conference at 10 a.m. ET Friday. But will they concentrate on the good news, the bad news, or the continuing uncertainty.
The good news is that Bass appears likely to get the official all-clear for orbital flight from a Russian medical commission on Friday. The bad news is that the Russian Aviation and Space Agency is bad-mouthing Bass’ bid.
The negotiations — involving representatives from TV networks, potential sponsors and Russian officials — are going down to the wire, reports David Gump, president of LunaCorp and a consultant to RadioShack, a leading sponsor of the project. During a telephone chat on Thursday, Gump said from Moscow that Bass and Garver are “deeply involved in trying to move the discussion forward.”
“It’s a discussion spread across 11 time zones,” Gump said. “They need to get in sync.” (Heh, heh…)
May 30, 2002 / 2:03 p.m. ET
Checking the cosmic clocks: Ultra-sensitive clocks on the international space station could put Einstein’s theory of general relativity to the test … again. Several readers sent along this intriguing NASA releaseabout the proposed space-time experiment. Comparing the march of time on multiple clocks could unlock the secrets of superstring theory, and if the clocks don’t match, Einstein’s theories could be in a world of hurt.
May 30, 2002 / 2:03 p.m. ET
Post card from London: I’ve reset my own clock one hour earlier, after flying from Belgium to Britain. This stopover is strictly pleasure, though I might be able to take in some scientific delights at the Natural History Museum or the British Museum. Cheers!
May 30, 2002 / 12:30 p.m. ET
Catching up on the Web:
Wired: Hear the magnified sounds of silence
New Scientist: Anti-snooping operating system close to launch
BBC: Airborne bugs may control the weather
May 31, 2002 / 10:41 a.m. ET
Watch the universe unfold: Supercomputer simulations are the stars of the show in a Discovery Channel documentary titled “The Unfolding Universe,” due to air Monday.
Using a program called Virtual Director, scientists from a dozen research institutions produced 20 minutes of animation, including a virtual journey from Earth to the supermassive black hole thought to anchor our galaxy. Other stunners show the life cycle of a star and the collision of two black holes.
May 31, 2002 / 10:41 a.m. ET
Clean bill of health: ‘NSync singer Lance Bass and “AstroMom” Lori Garver received their official medical clearance for orbital flight today from a Russian commission. RadioShack is sponsoring a combined bid that could give each of them a shot at space. But will other potential sponsors come through? Keep checking the story for the latest news from today’s Moscow news conference.
May 31, 2002 / 9 a.m. ET
Early warning: Brace yourself for cosmic revelations next week from the American Astronomical Society’s spring meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. You can bet there’ll be new findings about black holes and spectacular new pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. Later this month, June 18-21, more than 200 of the world’s top planet-hunters will gather in Washington to discuss “Scientific Frontiers in Research on Extrasolar Planets.” Bone up on the search for alien worlds by reviewing the “Looking for Life” archive.
May 31, 2002 / 9 a.m. ET
Cleaning the Clog: We’re now three weeks into the Cosmic Log’s life. That translates into more than a dozen installments, meaning we’ve already lasted longer than “Emeril.” It also means we’ll start pruning the Log from the bottom. Beginning Monday, the entries will go back for at least seven daily installments, then vanish into the ether — unless you think it’s worth finding a way to archive the old stuff. Let me know what your druthers are. I’m finishing up my “Where in the World” sojourn and will be able to check my clogged e-mail starting Monday.
May 31, 2002 / 9 a.m. ET
Weekend field trips on the Web:
Business 2.0: Eight technologies that will change the world
National Geographic: New findings support ancient flood myths
Slashdot: Pentagon working on universal two-way translator
European Space Agency: Is life abundant in outer space?
BBC: Astronomer says space organisms could be like balloons