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The Space Station Turns 10 Years Old Today

Where were you 10 years ago today? If you were in Kazakhstan, you could have looked up and perhaps seen a Proton launch vehicle rising through the atmosphere toward an orbit in space, carrying atop it a payload consisting of the first component of the International Space Station (ISS).

On 20 November 1998, the Russian space agency placed the 19,300-kilogram (21.3-ton) Zarya control and cargo module (also known as the Functional Cargo Block) into an orbit 400 kilometers (250 statute miles) above. According to an online statement from NASA, "The launch began an international construction project of unprecedented complexity and sophistication."

The Zarya (Russian for "dawn") was built at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center in Moscow, funded by a grant of US $220 million from the United States. It featured: three docking ports for connections to other modules and spacecraft; two solar power arrays; six nickel-cadmium batteries providing 3 kilowatts; 16 external fuel tanks filled with over 6 metric tons of propellant; and 24 large steering jets, 12 small steering jets, and two large engines for reboost and major orbital changes.

The U.S. space agency launched the second component to the ISS, the Unity Module, on 4 December 1998 aboard the shuttle Endeavour. American astronauts connected it to the Zarya three days later. Zarya was initially supposed to fly autonomously for only six to eight months, but production delays affecting the Russian Service Module, Zvezda, the third ISS module, delayed human occupancy and control of the orbital platform for nearly two years (until 26 July 2000).

A CNN article from 10 years ago observed that the launch of the Zarya represented the start of the "most complex and costly engineering project ever attempted." The same article noted that the ISS consortium expected to continue construction of the space station until 2004 at a cost of between $40 billion and $60 billion. Today that figure has reached an estimate somewhere between $35 billion and $100 billion, depending on accounting standards.

The ISS is a joint venture between NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and 11 members of the European Space Agency (ESA): Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. More than 100,000 people from space agencies and contractors throughout the world are involved in ISS-related activities, according to NASA.

Ten years later, the mass of the ISS has expanded to more than 314 tons. Since Zarya's launch as the early command, control and power module, there have been 29 additional construction flights to the station, according to NASA. Zarya passed the 50,000-orbit mark in 2007.

"The station's capability and sheer size today are truly amazing," NASA ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini noted this week. "The tremendous technological achievement in orbit is matched only by the cooperation and perseverance of its partners on the ground. We have overcome differences in language, geography, and engineering philosophies to succeed."

We congratulate everyone involved around the world in this truly historic cooperative engineering project at the high frontier of human enterprise.

Bart Gordon retains Science and Technology Committee chair

Today Bart Gordon was re-elected to chair the Committee on Science and Technology.

Why do you care? Since he got the job in 2006, Gordon has been a pit bull for science and tech initiatives. He was the one who pushed the America COMPETES Act through congress last year, among whose provisions was the authorization to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). That resource remains underfunded and underutilized but provides an excellent infrastructure for President-elect Obama's plans to revamp U.S. energy policy.

Gordon also led the fight earlier this year against letting Italian nuclear waste collect in Utah landfills.

Gordon hasn't always been a favorite around these parts (certain National Nanotechnology Initiative shenanigans raised some hackles) but usually his staunch opposition or intense support is on the right track.

Gordon has proven himself to be a good steward of the Science and Technology committee the past two years. I have high hopes for the next four: â''I want this to be the committee of good ideas,â'' he says. We need them.

The Charlie Rose of Nanotech Talk Shows?

I was excited to see that there was a new video talk show dedicated solely to the subject of nanotechnology. The new interview series is called Nanotech Today and is available both for download and real-time viewing on InTimeTV.com.

As the brief introduction to the show describes, the program brings together two 21st Century technologies (some might say, the two most over-hyped technologies of the new century): Internet TV and Nanotech.

But I knew, after my experiences with various Podcasts and other assorted multi-media venues discussing nanotech, that there would be a catch.

In this case, everyone (with the exception of one guest) that is interviewed comes from just one institution: Northwestern University.

While Dr. Chad Mirkin is a true innovator in the world nanotech, and no doubt has assembled a top-flight team of researchers, it would be nice sometimes to get a little different point of view.

Itâ''s a budget thing, I know. But maybe some of that 21st Century Internet TV technology could be applied so that an interview could be conducted with someone who was not in the studio.

Bad News Bearish II: The Sequel

A reader alerts me to an oversight in my last post: And, yes, Freescale and Motorola indeed deserve to be let into the clubhouse. I took the opportunity to shoehorn in a couple of other oversights. So here it is, your new, Wednesday-based bad-news roundup:

The Bad NewsThe Good NewsThe Numbers
FreescaleTrying to save $400 million in 2009? Why not try laying off at least 10% of your 2,400 employee base in Q4?At least they're still making other companies cry.Freescale reported Q3 net sales of $1.41 billion, down from $1.45 billion in Q3 2007. Freescale's loss from operations, however, was a different story: in September they lost $3.37 billion, compared to $202 million in the same period in 2007.
MotorolaRumored to be laying off 3,000 workers, with more than two-thirds of the job cuts coming from the handset division, starting in Q4. That's more than 10,000 job cuts since January.Nope.Q3 sales of $7.5 billion, down from $8.8 billion in Q3 2007.
QualcommChief Executive Officer Paul Jacobs told Bloomberg that he's stopped hiring and is eliminating some research projects after a "dramatic'' contraction in chip orders from mobile-phone makers. They have basically "shut off new hiring growth," switching Qualcomm's strategy from "bloom" to "prune".Nope.Qualcomm fell $2.50, or 7.1 percent, to $32.57 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, bringing this year's total decline to 17 percent.
CiscoGoldman Sachs booted the stock from its "Conviction Buy" list.But Cisco landed on the "Buy" list.Earnings were flat, but at least they beat the estimates. Cisco shares fell 84 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $15.61.
IntelSales could fall as much as 19 percent in the fourth quarter.It's Intel. They'll be all right.Expected fourth-quarter revenue of $8.7 billion to $9.3 billion, down from the earlier projection of $10.1 billion to $10.9 billion.
AMDPlans to lay off 500 people, or around three percent of its work force.AMD bought itself a little bit of breathing room with its Shanghai quad-core Opteron processors.AMD reported a net loss of $67 million, or 11 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with a loss of $396 million, or 71 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.
CadenceOn October 16, its chief executive and four other senior executives took offâ''"an unusually sweeping shake-up."Not much.Cadence shares plunged about 15%, or 80 cents a share, to $4.80 on the Nasdaq. A month later, they're hovering around $3.91. Cadence's projection of a third-quarter loss is due to industry-wide issues that include weaker demand for the software to make chips.
SunPlans to lay off 5,000 or 6,000 workers, more than 15 percent of its global workforce, over the next year.Not much.Stock price has plummeted, closing at $4.08 on Thursday, down from a 52-week high of $21.55. And last month, Sun reported a $1.67 billion loss in its most recent quarterâ''mostly due to a $1.45 billion charge to write down the value of past acquisitions.
Applied
Materials
Plans to cut 1,800 jobs, close to 12 percent of its workforce.Not much.45 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit to $231 million, down from $422 million last year. Sales tumbled 14 percent, to $2.04 billion from $2.37 billion last year.
Nvidia74 per cent drop in profit for its third quarter of 2008. Being sued by Rambus (but then again, who isn't?); losing market share to ATi due to poor VGA card pricing and lower than expected performance; the famous notebook video card recallâ'¿

Even this was better than what Wall Street was expecting.Net profit of $61.7 million, or 11 cents a share, in the three-month period. Last year it made $235.7 million, or 38 cents a share, in the comparable period.
HPIn September, the company said it will lay off 24,600 people over the next three years, or nearly 8 percent of its workers.UPDATE! HP surprised Wall Street on Tuesday by saying its earnings will be slightly above analysts' expectations, going against the grain of the sagging tech-economy. HP was down more than 7% on Wednesday, bringing it to HP's stock down more than 40 percent this year. As of 11-19-08, the company expects earnings of 84 cents per share and adjusted earnings of $1.03 per share. This is slightly better than the $1 per share, excluding special items, that Wall Street expected. HP forecast revenue of $33.6 million, just ahead of analysts' expectations. Are you starting to feel queasy too?
Dell chief technology officer Kevin Kettler plans to step down soon; in August, the company said it had cut 8,500 jobs. Countless variations on "Dude, youâ''re not getting a Dell."Dell shares fell as much as 15 percent on Wednesday; for 2008, Dell shares are off more than 60 percent.

New top supercomputers list

It's that time of year again. In June and in November the supercomputing world submits its scores to see who has outFLOPped whom.

The new list at top500.org shows that Roadrunner remains on top, but only because it's had some upgrades in the last 6 months. The good folks at top500 say Roadrunner (which is among the most energy efficient because of its Cell processors) narrowly fended off a newcomer, Oak Ridge National Lab's Jaguar, which became only the second machine to top a petaflop.

1 DOE/NNSA/LANL Roadrunner

2 Oak Ridge National Laboratory Jaguar XT-5

3 NASA/Ames Research Center/NAS Pleiades

4 DOE/NNSA/LLNL BlueGene/L

5 Argonne National Laboratory Blue Gene/P

6 Texas Advanced Computing Center/Univ. of Texas Ranger

7 NERSC/LBNL Franklin

8 Oak Ridge National Laboratory Jaguar XT-4

9 NNSA/Sandia National Laboratories Red Storm

10 Shanghai Supercomputer Center Dawning 5000A

The geography of supercomputing has gotten pretty skewed of late in favor of the United States. The New York Times did a nice infographic showing the location of the top 50. Of the new top 10 only number 10, Shanghai-based Dawning 5000A, is outside the United States. From the entire list of 500, 290 are in the United States. My personal favorite this year, India's EKA, was ejected from the top 10 back in June.

Nanotech Medicine: Yes...Nanotech Enhanced Humans: No

It seems that one of the largest areas of research in nanotech is becoming surveys. See here, here, or here.

In keeping with this general research trend, North Carolina State University in cooperation with Arizona State University have released their findings on what the public sees as the correct directions for nanotech.

Apparently, nearly 90% of respondents support medical breakthroughs enabled by nanotechnology, while only 30% are in favor of human enhancement brought about by nanotechnology. At least thatâ''s how the results are parsed here.

I am not sure if the researchers are again indulging in that fun parlor game of demonstrating how ill-informed US respondents are on the subject of nanotechnology, or what. But apparently the division between medical breakthroughs and human enhancement doesnâ''t really exist except in the prejudices of the respondents.

The example given that nearly 90% of people supported would be a â''video-to-brain link that would amount to artificial eyesight for the blindâ''. On the other hand, the example for which only 30% of respondents supported was â''implants that could improve performance of soldiers on the battlefield.â''

Just to clarify, both examples concern human enhancement. Except one is for military use and the other one is for the blind.

I guess if someone called me up and asked if I were pro or con on the subject of euthanasia for cuddly little puppy dogs, or rabid, baby killing pit bulls, my response would say less about my position on euthanasia and more about how I preferred puppies to rabid dogs.

Shuttle and Space Station Crews Work on Expansion Scheme

The International Space Station (ISS) is expanding again.

The shuttle Endeavour has arrived at the space station with a payload that will increase the floor space of the orbiting platform to make it possible for it to house six space travelers in the future. The main task of the current shuttle mission, STS-126, is to attach the Italian-made Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) filled with "goodies" to the tip of the ISS. NASA said in an online statement today that the Leonardo cargo container has been successfully attached to the nadir port of the Harmony Node, the "utility hub" of the ISS.

NASA has packed the Leonardo MPLM with systems to be installed in the Harmony Node and Destiny Lab, including: two water recovery systems racks for recycling urine into potable water, a second toilet system, new galley components, two new food warmers, a food refrigerator, an experiment freezer, a combustion science experiment rack, two separate sleeping quarters and a resistance exercise device.

"We're here to work," Endeavour Commander Mike Fincke reported to mission contol. "This is the can-do crew."

Fincke called the cargo in the Leonardo MPLM "the goodies ... things needed for an extreme home makeover."

Bad News Bearish

â''2001â'' is shaping up to be the new cliche, as business reporters compare the current state of tech stocks to the post-Bubble panic. Every day seems to bring a new headline about some tech stock plunging to previously-unseen depths.

â''Things have gotten worse every week of October and even worse in November,â'' Charter Equity Research analyst John Dryden told the New York Times.

â''People donâ''t have any money left to buy cool gadgets,â'' another research analyst said in the same article.

So here it is, your bad news roundup (after the jump). Iâ''ve tried to include good news where possible.

Bad NewsGood Newsthe Numbers
IntelSales could fall as much as 19 percent in the fourth quarter.It's Intel. They'll be all right.Expected fourth-quarter revenue of $8.7 billion to $9.3 billion, down from the earlier projection of $10.1 billion to $10.9 billion.
AMDPlans to lay off 500 people, or around three percent of its work force.AMD bought itself a little bit of breathing room with its Shanghai quad-core Opteron processors.AMD reported a net loss of $67 million, or 11 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with a loss of $396 million, or 71 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.
Cadence On October 16, its chief executive and four other senior executives took offâ''"an unusually sweeping shake-up."Not much.Cadence shares plunged about 15%, or 80 cents a share, to $4.80 on the Nasdaq. A month later, they're hovering around $3.91. Cadence's projection of a third-quarter loss is due to industry-wide issues that include weaker demand for the software to make chips.
SunPlans to lay off 5,000 or 6,000 workers, more than 15 percent of its global workforce, over the next year.Not much.Stock price has plummeted, closing at $4.08 on Thursday, down from a 52-week high of $21.55. And last month, Sun reported a $1.67 billion loss in its most recent quarterâ''mostly due to a $1.45 billion charge to write down the value of past acquisitions.
Applied
Materials
Plans to cut 1,800 jobs, close to 12 percent of its workforce.Not much.45 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit to $231 million, down from $422 million last year. Sales tumbled 14 percent, to $2.04 billion from $2.37 billion last year.
Nvidia74 per cent drop in profit for its third quarter of 2008. Being sued by Rambus (but then again, who isn't?); losing market share to ATi due to poor VGA card pricing and lower than expected performance; the famous notebook video card recallâ'¿

Even this was better than what Wall Street was expecting.Net profit of $61.7 million, or 11 cents a share, in the three-month period. Last year it made $235.7 million, or 38 cents a share, in the comparable period.
HPIn September, the company said it will lay off 24,600 people over the next three years, or nearly 8 percent of its workers.The memistor? HP was down more than 7% on Wednesday, bringing it to HP's stock down more than 40 percent this year.
Dell chief technology officer Kevin Kettler plans to step down soon; in August, the company said it had cut 8,500 jobs. Countless variations on "Dude, youâ''re not getting a Dell."Dell shares fell as much as 15 percent on Wednesday; for 2008, Dell shares are off more than 60 percent.

Nuclear arms control talks start: there's a role for reliability engineering

The United States and Russia are scheduled to hold talks in Geneva starting today and lasting until 21 November to craft a new nuclear weapons treaty. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) was signed in Moscow in 1991 and expires in December 2009. There's much haggling over what should replace it, with complications coming from a U.S.-European missile shield. It would do for both sides to consider the real risks of nuclear war involved.

Earlier this year, Martin Hellman, the co-inventor of public key cryptography, tried just that. He applied reliability engineering methods to figure the rate of failure for nuclear deterrence. Though it's not the only possible trigger of a nuclear confrontation, Hellman focused on a "Cuban Missile Type Crisis" as the cause. See our story last April for Hellman's fascinatng equation for armageddon, but I've pasted the rather disturbing results here:

The result is a range from 2 chances in 10 000 per year to 5 chances in 1000 per year for just this one type of trigger mechanism. The values are valid only for the Cold War years, writes Hellman. But that doesnâ''t make them irrelevant at a time when relations between the United States and Russia are deteriorating; India and an unstable Pakistan have acquired atomic weaponry; and military planners from Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul worry about whether a nuclear-armed China would go to war to reclaim Taiwan.

Hellman's careful to say that he's not necessarily advocating complete disarmament. After all there is probably risk to not having a nuclear deterrent, too. Instead, like a true academic, he just wants somebody, such as the National Academy of Engineering, to do a far more nuanced analysis than his own; so that policy makers and the public have a real understanding of what the risks of nuclear strategies really are. Check out his website devoted to the cause here.

Round-Up of Coverage on Royal Commissionâ¿¿s Nanomaterials Report

Both the mainstream press and nanotechnology-related blogs have been furiously covering the recent report from the UKâ''s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on the potential risks of new nanomaterials.

In my previous post, I alluded to some of these. But it might be worth providing a brief round-up of both the news coverage and editorial comment.

Blogs:

Richard Jonesâ'' Soft Machines Blog covers it here.

Andrew Maynardâ''s 2020 Science Blog covers it here.

Cientificaâ''s TNTLog covers it here.

For the mainstream press, I have limited the list somewhat just to reflect the differing tones given to the story:

The BBC

Financial Times

The Daily Mail

The coverage of this story still seems to be centered around the UK press. We'll keep an eye on the story to see how international it becomes.

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