Monday, March 27, 2006

AbSciCon '06

Am at AbSciCon'06 in DC

Interesting venue - it is at the Ronald Reagan building, couple of blocks from the White House.
Fun, but somewhat unusual for this crowd. Security going in and out of the building is enough to be annoying and slowing everything down, but not apparently terribly useful. Nice security crew though, very friendly.

I am happy to say the Big Kid sat through a plenary lecture on Chemotrophy and evidence for early evolution of H2 metabolism (with the free hydrogen coming from water reacting with quenched rocks out of thermodynamic equilibrium). Neat stuff.
She also managed a fair part of the protoplanetary disk session (not enough Mars folks - want to keep the audience, must refer to Mars. Just ask anyone at HQ!)

It is a curious meeting, would normally have been out in Calif. but was brought here to showcase astrobio for HQ, at their insistence. And then they gutted the program a few weeks before the meeting.

At any given time a fair fraction of the attendees is down at the Capitol petitioning Congress, as good citizens should.

There's a "Town Meeting' tonight, with pre-meeting rumours of good news. We'll see. More of it tomorrow.

In the meantime, interesting news from south of the Mall:

first of all - HST and JWST is not enough to keep astronomy going folks. And just because "you" like those missions, doesn't mean you shoud be blase about cuts to "exotic" astronomy... you know who you are. You're there to represent the whole field, not your own research group. Don't make us remind you more forcefully.

Secondly, odds of HST actually being refurbished are well under 50%, probably under 10%.
NASA will probably launch another shuttle, to show they can. They probably won't launch any more than that, even if it goes well.
In the meantime several hundred million dollars will be spent on HST refurbishment activities.
[oo, er, timely blogger crash...]

Finally, JWST is a neat mission, it will do good stuff if it stays on spec, and the cost overruns are not that outrageous, yet.
Most of the quoted increase is change in accounting (full cost, plus count of running MODA!) and the cost of the delays and stretching of the schedule.
But, JWST will not be a "community" mission like HST. Sure there will be some GO programs, but it will do much more large science with pre-defined groups and GTO.
And, we're probably looking at a several year gap between HST and JWST, if you want to be realistic.
How much archive money do you think they'll pipe in to cover that gap? Not enough.

This may sound like a lot of whinging, but the problem we're facing as a community is that these flailing changes in budget and priority cause multi-year damage. People are forced out of the field, a generation of postdocs and students gets booted, and technical expertise built up over 20 years is thrown out the window.
But, worst of all, the younger people see this happening and figure that you'd have to be nuts to go through it!
And then we wonder why no one wants to do physical sciences any more.


Blogger Adam Solomon said...

Hello there! Have you seen this? America's first attempt to Europeanize their educational system, it looks like. I'm curious to see precisely how this one plays out...

12:18 AM  

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