The government may offer $10 million for hydrogen technology, scientists discover a new genus of monkey and NASA and India cooperate to reach the moon.

Iran’s Nuclear Program Versus The World

Seeking to stave off nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Britain and France have introduced a draft resolution to the UN Security Council requiring Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reactor construction. The suspension mandate is not backed up with threats, but US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told reporters that noncompliance on Iran’s part could lead to military action. Still, he remained convinced that the UN and Iran “are going to work this out.”

Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent efforts to begin a pen pal correspondence with George Bush, the US stance on Iranian nukes is unlikely to change. A spokesperson for the National Security Council said the letter revealed no new information on Iran’s nuclear program or human rights violations. The spokesperson confirmed to reporters that President Bush had not read the letter, but added, “The president was briefed on the letter en route to Florida.”

Around 120 Chinese scientists working in the US have signed a letter calling on their homeland to provide better monitoring and regulation of scientific research. The open letter, which was addressed to science minister Xu Guanhua, comes in the wake of a series of plagiarism scandals in China and neighboring South Korea. The signers worry that until China’s scientists operate under more rigorous controls, they risk jeopardizing the legitimacy of future research.

The potential death toll from a US avian flu epidemic could reach two million, according to a White House report released last Wednesday. The report suggests plans for quarantining infected patients and deploying the National Guard to control panicking Americans. Government officials have sought to play down the number, reassuring Americans that the report dealt with speculations and hypothetical situations, not facts.


NASA Partners With Other World Powers

On Tuesday, NASA administrator Michael Griffin met Indian colleagues in Bangalore and signed a pact to cooperate on an Indian moon mission. This visit from a NASA chief is the first of its kind for many decades, and represents India’s growing prominence in international research affairs. The unmanned Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon will launch in late 2007 or early 2008.

Also, NASA’s Griffin will travel to China this year. Chinese senior aerospace official Zhang Qingwei said on Wednesday that he hopes for greater exchange of resources and personnel between the two countries. Zhang noted a continued lack of reciprocity in Sino-American space relations: While NASA staff have traveled freely to China, their Chinese counterparts have frequently been denied visas to the US.

Japan’s space agency plans to begin talks with NASA on developing a supersonic jet to replace the retired Concorde. The country’s program to develop such a jet has stalled due to problems with the nosecone, and now Japanese scientists are looking for an international partner to help jumpstart their efforts. Japan eventually hopes to offer a three-hour trip from Los Angeles to Tokyo.


Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Last Friday, NASA announced it is sponsoring a $2 million prize to encourage the development of new rockets that might eventually be used for lunar missions. The agency’s specifications are brutally stringent: The rocket must be able to take off vertically, hover in the air, land at a different spot 100 yards away, and finally return to its original launch pad. The unusual requirements exist because NASA hopes to use the rocket to ferry people and supplies between the moon’s surface and orbit.

The US House of Representatives passed legislation that will offer cash prizes for breakthroughs in the use of hydrogen fuels. The so-called “H-Prize” consists of a $10 million award for “transformational technologies” in the field of hydrogen energy and $1 million and $4 million awards for other advances. The prize will not take away from previous government investments in hydrogen technology, including a $1.7 billion bill proposed by President Bush in 2003.

Anousheh Ansari, a US national from Iran, plans to become the first female space tourist in 2007, Russia’s space agency Roskosmos announced. Ansari, the 38-year-old head of Telecom Technologies, will travel on a Russian vessel to the International Space Station. Under the preliminary terms of her contract with Roskosmos, Ansari is the understudy for Japanese space tourist Daisuke Enomoto, who is paying $20 million for the privilege of traveling to the space station.


Fuel’s Gold

Switchgrass could save us from oil addiction, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon. The scientists are championing switchgrass as a renewable ethanol source, since it is cheaper and more readily available than corn. It could be produced in quantities sufficient to deliver 16% ethanol fuel to all American oil consumers, reducing and stabilizing the price of gasoline.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a consortium of nuclear energy companies, promised to “closely monitor” radioactive water leeching into groundwater from power plants. Spurred by recent leaks from three nuclear plants in Illinois, the nuclear industry assured the press that it would take unspecified steps to watch for such accidents. Although the water’s radioactivity does not exceed health standards, the group hopes to preempt any possible health (and public relations) hazards.

Warnings about global warming didn’t stop greenhouse gas emissions from rising 15% between 1999 and 2002, according to a newly released report from the World Bank. The report points to industrialized nations like the US as the main culprits but also assigns a share of the blame to the growing economies of China and India. “We need to find creative ways to engage all major economies of the world to solve a global problem such as climate change,” acting World Bank vice-president Steen Jorgensen told reporters.

China’s Three Gorges Dam, the mammoth hydroelectric dam being built across the Yangtze River, will be completed nine months ahead of schedule, according to the state news service. Although several generators won’t be installed until 2008, the project will be considered complete on May 20 after its 7,600 foot long (2,300 meter) concrete face is finished. Critics of the dam have called attention to its $22 billion cost, its environmental impact, the forced displacement of people living along the Yangtze and uncertainty over the dam’s ability to control flooding.


Scientists Learn What Is and Isn’t in the Sky

A team of US scientists discovered that meteorites contain deposits of ancient carbon—material they previously thought was found only in cosmic dust. Scientists believe the carbon-rich, organic matter is more ancient than the solar system and was essential to the development of life on Earth. The finding should allow for the study of ancient molecules without the high cost of equipment like NASA’s Stardust spacecraft.

Sometime during the last days of the Jurassic period, an immense asteroid—between three to six miles (five to 10 kms) in diameter—bombed into what is now the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, creating a massive crater that now lies covered over with dust and sand. This week, scientists drilling in the 100 mile (160 km) wide crater discovered a large fragment of the original asteroid. The find contradicts previous impact theories, which hypothesize that objects hitting the Earth melt and vaporize on impact, and the meteorite may help scientists better understand the physics of such collisions.

Finally, a new genus of monkey was documented in Tanzania, caught and killed by a farmer’s trap. Rungwecebus is the first new monkey genus discovered in over 80 years. The Rungwecebus kipunji monkey was known to exist based on photographs taken last year, but this was the first time scientists had the chance to examine one of the animals. DNA testing suggests it is most closely related to the baboon, although it is smaller and arboreal.

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Originally published May 12, 2006

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