American loses another, whales may lose a big one, and a ship that moves by sunlight gets ready.
June 20, 2005
We serve no eggs before their time; or at least we didn’t—Another barrier to embryonic stem cell research fell, and again, it was not by American scientists. This time the news came from Belgium, Ghent University Hospital, where researchers apparently took immature eggs, aged them in the test tube and then created human embryos. It becomes an alternate source for the embryos and uses eggs that could not be used for fertility procedures. The embryos can then produce stem cells for both research and therapeutic cloning. They aren’t there yet—the embryos formed had only 8-16 cells, insufficient for cloning--but it was a major step in that direction. Last month, South Korean scientists created clones stem cells from living patients. All of this moves science forward into unknown places. Highly touted, stem cells could be the answer to a number of terrible diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but no one really knows if that is so yet despite the hype. The research remains to be done. What is known is that restrictions on stem cell research originating from the Bush administration, cutting off federal aid to most of this kind of research, has pushed American scientists to the background in many cases.
Sailing on the solar wind—If all goes well, we may see the first solar sailing ship launched into space. Using a method first conceived by Johannes Kepler, an international group of space aficionados will launch the world’s first spacecraft propelled by sunshine. The device, 6,500 square-feet of Mylar looks like a flower with eight petals. Each petal is 1-1/2 times the size of a conventional basketball court. [pdf] The propulsions system is a wonder, the solar wind, the tiny particles that stream from the sun throughout the solar system. The particles hit the Mylar petals and give a minute, gentle push. The force is tiny but over sufficient time, it could propel the spacecraft faster than a conventional rocket-engine device because it is cumulative and constant. There is little friction to slow it down. The vehicle does not have to carry fuel and the supply is endless. Equally interesting is the source of the spacecraft. With NASA five years behind and no other government interested in this sort of thing, the spacecraft is privately organized, much of it from the 80,000-member Planetary Society created in 1980 by Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan. The funding comes from a film company, Cosmos Studios, run by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan. It is to be launched from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. WP LAT
UPDATE--The spacecraft--boringly named Cosmos-1--blasted off successfully today, but alas, as soon as the final stage of the rocket fired, all communications ended and the attempt was a failure. Nice try, though, dudes.
Ishmael, white courtesy telephone please—The whale wars are on again. The few countries that support the hunting of whales—for “research,” of course—may try to take over the International Whaling Commission, the international body that so far has succeeded in keeping whaling to a minimum. Japan, Norway and Iceland are starting another fight in this week’s meeting in South Korea. They lost the first battle, but not the war. Pro-whaling countries tried to change voting by the IWC to a secret ballot—probably so no one would know who supports the killing of whales—but by the slimmest of margins, 30-27. Three countries—would you believe Gambia, Togo and Nauru—who are expected to support whaling (having been literally bought off) didn’t vote because they either haven’t paid their dues or hadn’t made it to Ulsan yet. A number of countries, mostly in the Caribbean and Africa, want the rules changed to allow more whaling but are afraid of the outrage of conservationists, who find whaling morally unacceptable. In retaliation, Australia, which supports restrictions, is proposing a measure for condemning Japan for its whaling practices. The Japanese claim they hunt whales for scientific study. Everyone who has visited a fish market in Japan knows they lie. They announced today they want to double the hunt, 850 Minke whales, but lost the vote.