Leading the News
SMAP Satellite Successfully Launched Into Space.
The AP (1/31) reported on the successful launch of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite aboard a Delta 2 rocket on Saturday. NASA launch manager Tim Dunn reportedly stated that there were “zero launch problems.” Geoffery Yoder, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for programs, said that the data SMAP will return when commissioned “will benefit not only scientists seeking a better understanding of our planet, climate and environment … it’s a boon for emergency planners and policy makers.” Meanwhile, according to the article, Scott Higginbotham, a mission manager in the Ground Processing Directorate at NASA, said that four CubeSats that were also launched with SMAP were “flying free Saturday morning” and being turned on.
The Los Angeles Times (1/31, Mohan) noted that it will be a year before the satellite can “gather, calibrate, verify and analyze the information in a way that is suitable for scientific research.” Jared Entin, NASA project scientist for the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, said that the data that will be gathered is important because “this water in the soil is a cog between three important cycles in the Earth system – the water cycle, the carbon cycle and the energy cycle.” Entin added that while the mission is only scheduled to last five years, “if the satellite works on Day 1, odds are it will work for a decade or longer.”
According to the Orange County (CA) Register (1/31, Orlowski), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “Scientists and policymakers will use SMAP data to track water movement around our planet and make more informed decisions in critical areas like agriculture and water resources.” Simon Yueh, SMAP project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noted, “SMAP will improve the daily lives of people around the world” because it “has the potential to significantly improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts and reduce the uncertainty of long-term projections of how climate change will impact Earth’s water cycle.”
Japan Launches Spy Satellite. AFP (2/1) reports that Japan successfully launched a “back-up spy satellite” aboard a H-2A rocket on Sunday after bad weather delayed an earlier attempt. JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries confirmed the launch proceeded “normally.”
NASA Space Flight (1/31, Graham) noted that the H-2A rocket will launch again in “March or April,” with two more launches scheduled for 2015. The article also noted that an H-2B rocket will launch the fifth Kounotori spacecraft to the ISS this August.
Proton Rocket Launches Inmarsat-5 F-2 Satellite. NASA Space Flight (2/1, Bergin) reports that the International Launch Services (ILS) conducted its first successful launch of the year by sending the Inmarsat-5 F-2 communications satellite into orbit aboard a Russian Proton-M rocket. The satellite is part of the Inmarsat Global Xpress satellite constellation, “which will be the first globally available high-speed broadband network” when completed.
South Dakota Mines Graduate Student Receives DOE Science Graduate Research Award.
The AP (2/2) reports that “a graduate student from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has received the 2015 Science Graduate Research Award” from the Energy Department. Anne-Marie Suriano “is pursuing a doctorate degree at the school in Rapid City.” Suriano’s “current work includes helping create the purest copper in the world.” She “will work for one year at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory located in Richland, Washington, as part of the award from the federal agency.”
Plan To Adjust Colleges’ Student Outcomes For Rating System Sparks Controversy.
Inside Higher Ed (1/30) reports on the controversy surrounding the part of ED’s college rating plan which would hold schools accountable for student outcomes, noting that colleges say that “those outcomes, like completion rates and graduates’ earnings, are largely a reflection of the student population they serve, and therefore not necessarily a good benchmark of their institution’s success.” To cope with this issue, ED, in its recent framework for the plan, called for “adjusting a college’s outcomes based on the demographics of the students it enrolls,” which is “largely unprecedented in federal higher education policy.” Critics argue that the plan would set up “lower expectations for colleges that serve disadvantaged students.”
Public University Costs Continue To Rise For Students.
The Washington Post (1/31, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that public universities are becoming so expensive that most students leave with significant debt, a sea-change from pre-recession times when students could attend a public university and graduate with little money owed.
Research and Development
Boston University Professor Testing Bionic Pancreas.
TIME (1/30, Sifferlin) reports on Boston University biomedical engineering professor Ed Damiano’s efforts to develop a “portable, wearable bionic pancreas – a device he hopes to have on the market as early as 2017,” when his son David will attend college. Though the device will not cure Type 1 diabetes, it “could prove to be the next best thing” and would be “a life changer for” patients. It could also “translate into profits for Damiano – Type 1 diabetes accounts for $5 billion in health care costs each year –which is why a number of other research groups are working on their own versions of the bionic pancreas.” Results from “the last published study” show “that 81% of people on the bionic pancreas had better blood-sugar control than with their standard treatment.”
Images Capture Launch Of NASA Sounding Rocket.
The WTKR-TV Norfolk, VA (1/30, Knight) website reported that last week, photographer Ronn Murray captured a “gorgeous video” of the Aural Spatial Structures Probe (ASSP) being launched from the Poker Flat Research Range aboard a NASA’s “new four-stage” Oriole IV sounding rocket. John Hickman, operations manager of the NASA sounding rocket program office at the Wallops Flight Facility, said, “This is likely the most complicated mission the sounding rocket program has ever undertaken and it was not easy by any stretch. … It was technically challenging every step of the way. The payload deployed all six sub-payloads in formation as planned and all appeared to function as planned. Quite an amazing feat to maneuver and align the main payload, maintain the proper attitude while deploying all six 7.3-pound sub payloads at about 40 meters per second.”
Commentary: Much Of Westinghouse’s Atom Smasher’s History Embellished.
In a commentary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2/1, Vitale), Patrick Vitale, assistant professor at New York University, wrote that the “press, public and preservationists rightly decried” a developer’s move to demolish the foundation of the Westinghouse ‘atom smasher.’ Reports described the atom smasher as the “nation’s first Van de Graaf generator, as a predecessor of the Manhattan Project and as Westinghouse’s entry into the field of nuclear power.” Vitale says that all of these claims are “exaggerations,” and goes on to recount the efforts of L.W. Chubb, the director of the Westinghouse Research Laboratory in Forest Hills, who decided to build the atom smasher instead of a cyclotron. The “atom smasher is seen as a great success for Pittsburgh and Westinghouse, even though it made few discoveries, did not contribute to the Manhattan Project and had almost no bearing on the company’s eventual entry into the field of nuclear power.” Its “main success was” that it helped “rehabilitate Westinghouse’s reputation.”
Engineering and Public Policy
House Must Still Decide If It Can Accept Senate Keystone Bill.
National Journal (2/1, Johnson, Subscription Publication) notes that the House “must now decide whether to pass the Senate’s version of the [Keystone] bill, which comes attached with a slate of amendments, including a measure affirming that climate change is real and not a hoax.” National Journal adds that “if the House does not pass the Senate bill…both chambers must proceed to a conference committee to iron out their legislative differences.”
WSJournal: Bipartisan Support For Keystone Undercuts Obama Veto Threat. The Wall Street Journal (2/2, Subscription Publication), in an editorial, points out that last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow a vote on legislation allowing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that passed last week with the support of nine Senate Democrats. The Journal says that in light of the bill’s eventual bipartisan support and its job creation potential, President Obama’s veto threat makes little sense.
O’Malley Calls For Ban On Offshore Drilling Along East Coast.
In an op-ed for the New York Times (2/2, O’Malley, Subscription Publication) titled “Don’t Drill Along The East Coast,” former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley says that last week’s “whiplash decision” by the Administration “to allow oil and gas companies to drill” along the East Coast of the US “is a big mistake.” He calls for a ban on offshore drilling “along our densely populated, economically vibrant and environmentally diverse Eastern Seaboard” and says that “the facts support a ban.” Calling for a move towards a “clean energy future,” O’Malley concludes “expanding offshore drilling is irreconcilable with the realities of climate science and irrelevant, at best, to taking advantage of the vast economic opportunities clean energy presents.”
Nine Virginia Middle Schools Chosen To Participate In NASA Challenge.
The AP (1/30) reported that “Students at nine Virginia middle schools are participating in a NASA program to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” According to the Virginia Department of Education, “the state is one of ten chosen by NASA and the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the 2014-2015 Engineering Design Challenge.”
KC Engineering Zone Opens For Science, Engineering Students.
The AP (2/2) reports that the 4,200-square-foot KC Engineering Zone workspace on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus “was officially dedicated this week.” The center “hopes to eventually provide resources for science and engineering students throughout the Kansas City region.” It “offers students such tools as Bridgeport milling machines, a metal lathe and shear, a band saw, drill presses and rows of computers,” and features professional engineers and Missouri-Kansas City students who will “work alongside students who are pursuing or considering careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Students Competed In 10th Annual Robotics Tournament At MSU This Weekend.
The Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle (2/2) reports on Montana State University’s 10th annual FIRST Robotics Championship weekend. Over the course of Friday and Saturday, “around 1,000 middle and high school students in teams from Montana, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming filled the gym with their prebuilt LEGO robots.”
Dallas ISD’s STEM Day Aims To Fascinate Students With Scientific Principles.
The Dallas Morning News (1/31) reports on Dallas ISD’s second annual STEM Day, where students in grades pre-kindergarten to 12 were taught about scientific principles, with topics ranging “from birds to Mars.” The 50-minute sessions were intended “to fascinate children with science, technology, engineering, and math.” This year’s STEM Day hosted about 1,500 students and parents, “and the daylong event included 90 sessions — 20 more than last year.” Additionally, sessions were added “for educators that provided professional development credit.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Keystone XL Bill Clears Senate, But Obama Veto Looms.