Jan. 27, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Forgotten space tragedies: As NASA remembers its fallen astronauts , Dr. Pat Santy remembers NASA as well. On her "Dr. Sanity" Web log, the crew surgeon for the Challenger mission tells the story of the 1986 shuttle explosion and how the aftermath led to her disillusionment with the space agency she once idolized.

"Since that day in 1986, I have come to see NASA as one of the greatest impediments to the Dream of space exploration; but I have never given up the Dream itself," she writes. "Nor have I forgotten any of the pioneers who have died in the service of that Dream."

Santy recommends NBC News space analyst James Oberg's biting commentary on NASA's triple tragedy, and in a follow-up e-mail, Oberg sent me some observations about today's "Day of Remembrance" and NASA's list of fallen heroes.

"There’s a hazy line between qualifying for the list, and just barely not qualifying. Overall, NASA historical researchers did a respectable job," Oberg wrote.

He noted with approval that Administrator Sean O'Keefe mentioned Robert Lawrence, an Air Force space trainee whom many regard as the first black astronaut, among the fallen:

"Including Robert Lawrence was proper, because his death was while in an active human spaceflight program and involved official activities, and he would likely have transferred to NASA in 1969 when the military program was canceled. But another astronaut in that program, Jim Taylor, was killed after the program ended, in a T-38 crash on Sept. 4, 1970, while performing his duties at the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base — he is not memorialized.

"A third military astronaut, Mike Adams, had left the USAF astronaut program to become an X-15 rocket plane pilot, and he was killed Nov. 15, 1967, at the end of an X-15 flight that had flown high enough to qualify him for ‘astronaut status.’ Another X-15 pilot, Joe Walker, had also flown high enough (80 kilometers, or 50 miles) to earn this status, and he was later killed in a midair collision, June 6, 1966. Even though the X-15 was a NASA program, NASA does not recognize these men as ‘NASA astronauts.’

"Another X-15 pilot, John McKay, earned astronaut status, but then was severely injured in an X-15 crash in 1962. After years of medical treatment, he died on April 27, 1975, from complications of his original injuries. He is not memorialized.

"The Air Force had an even earlier spaceflight program, the X-20 (or 'Dyna-soar') space plane, so far ahead of its time it was canceled in 1963. One of the selected astronauts, Russ Rogers, later died in an F-105 jet explosion, on Sept. 13, 1967, over Okinawa.

"The most poignant 'almost-astronaut' who wasn’t memorialized has to be Charles Jones, who was selected in 1982 to train as a payload specialist aboard a shuttle mission. Several of his teammates did make spaceflights, but he didn’t, and the program was disbanded. He was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001, that smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. In this online tribute, note the sad phrase, 'There are no In Memoriams for Charles Jones.'"

Jan. 27, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
What's in a scientific name? All politicians dream of having a street or an airport named after them — and for science geeks, the equivalent honor might be to have a heavenly body or a biological species that bears your name. After all, that's the impulse behind the "name-a-star" schemes that are so popular around Christmas and Valentine's Day.

This week's naming of Asteroid Douglasadams , honoring the author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," sparked a spirited message thread on Slashdot. One correspondent pointed out that Adams' work has inspired a handful of species names — such as Bidenichthys beeblebroxi and Erechthias beeblebroxi, two "false-headed" species that are named after Adams' groovy two-headed alien, Zaphod Beeblebrox.

The best compendium of celebrity scientific names appears to be "Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature," which rounds up critters ranging from Villa manillae to Bambiraptor and the ever-popular owl louse, Strigiphilus garylarsoni. Discovery.com sheds more light on the species-naming procedure (or lack thereof).

Going back to the heavenly bodies, being a star or a professional stargazer is the best route to getting your name on an asteroid. This column by astronomer Alan Hale (of Comet Hale-Bopp fame) covers some highlights — including Asteroid Johnny, which honors the late king of late-night TV . But there's still room for not-so-famous amateurs as well.

For example, one of the new names announced this week honors amateur astronomer Nicholas Paul Ratliff of Oklahoma City. Brian Marsden, director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, explained that Ratliff died a couple of years ago in a traffic accident at the age of 20. His sister-in-law contacted the IAU with a request. "She asked, 'Was there some way we could honor him?' So yeah, why not?" Marsden recalled.

The discoverer of Asteroid 1989 NR agreed to the request, and so that space rock is now known as Asteroid Ratliff.

Don't be too quick to submit your own name, however: There's a certain etiquette to making a request, as a writer for Discover magazine discovered several years ago.

Jan. 27, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
On the road again: I'll be taking a quick trip to Iowa starting Friday — and so updates to the log will be sporadic until I'm back in the office on Tuesday.

Jan. 27, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Must-see science on the World Wide Web:
Nat'l Geographic: Animal-human hybrids spark controversy
Discover Magazine: The Super Bowl of Smart
Discovery.com: Young women's scent attracts men
The Guardian: Ten books to blow your mind

Jan. 26, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Let there be dark matter: What is dark matter, and what role does it play in the cosmos? A study published today in the journal Nature suggests that halos of dark matter were nothing less than the seeds that shaped the universe as we know it — and that some of those halos might still occasionally pass through our own solar system.

Dark matter is stuff that can't be seen but makes its presence known through its gravitational effect. Most cosmologists have come around to the view that it consists of exotic particles that have been dubbed neutralinos.

Image: Simulation of early universe
University of Zurich
This graphic shows a simulated view of the early universe, color-coded to reflect mass rather than light. Two zoom-view insets focus down on a dark matter halo about the size of the solar system. The large blue region is 10,000 light-years across.
When researchers at the University of Zurich started up a supercomputer simulation of the early universe's development, the first structures that formed turned out to be halos of neutralinos that were about as massive as Earth but as wide as the solar system.

"These dark-matter halos were the gravitational 'glue' that attracted ordinary matter, eventually enabling stars and galaxies to form," Ben Moore, a co-author of the study, said in a news release. "These structures, the building blocks of all we see today, started forming early, only about 20 million years after the Big Bang."

The researchers believe more than a quadrillion (that's a 1 followed by 15 zeroes) of the halos still exist today in our galaxy — and they figure that one could pass through the solar system every few thousand years, leaving a detectable trail of gamma rays in its wake.

"It is even possible that these halos could perturb the Oort cometary cloud far beyond Pluto and send debris through our solar system," the researchers said.

They say NASA's Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST, planned for launch in 2007, should be able to detect the trails of the halos they exist. Ground-based gamma-ray observatories such as VERITAS or MAGIC might also be able to detect neutralino interactions. In the next few years, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland should shed more light on the neutralino mystery as well.

In the meantime, bone up on dark matter, and find out why all this really matters, by clicking through our interactive report .

Jan. 26, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Space race update: Would-be space passenger Greg Olsen isn't likely to get a chance to fly to the international space station until 2006, according to a UPI interview with Space Adventures' Eric Anderson. The report hints that some other well-heeled space buff might go up to the station on a Soyuz craft later this year, but it all depends on how the professional crew rotation works out.

The crew for April's Soyuz flight is all-professional: NASA's John Phillips and Russia's Sergei Krikalev, plus Italy's Roberto Vittori as a short-term visitor. Germany's Thomas Reiter is reportedly due for a long-term stay later this year, along with NASA's Bill McArthur and Russia's Valery Tokarov. So will there be room for a millionaire passenger? Perhaps, if some of the professional station crew members go up on the space shuttle. Stay tuned — this speculative schedule on Spacefacts.de helps you keep the crews straight.

Jan. 26, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Planetary shift: The nonprofit Planetary Society has elevated some high-profile science types to its leadership: Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist behind the recently released "Origins" book and miniseries , is the group's new chairman of the board. Bill Nye the Science Guy, one of the guys behind the Mars sundial, takes Tyson's place as vice president. Bruce Murray, the previous chairman and a co-founder of the society, is staying on as a board member. Arizona State University meteorite expert Laurie Leshin is a new board member.

Jan. 26, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Wonder and whimsy on the World Wide Web:
Defense Tech: High-tech vs. roadside bombs in Iraq
Slate: Brain scans for sale
Tech Central Station: Johnny Carson, the great stargazer
The Onion: More discoveries from the Huygens probe

Jan. 25, 2005 | 8:45 p.m. ET
Rating the asteroid risk: Now that last month's alert over an Earth-approaching asteroid named 2004 MN4 has passed and we can contemplate the lighter side of asteroids , astronomers are working on better ways to communicate the risk that future space rocks might pose to our planet.

Over the years, scientists have developed several schemes to rate the statistical risks, starting with the 0-to-10 Torino Scale. Asteroid 2004 MN4 stirred up a fuss even among astronomers because at its peak, a close encounter in 2029 received a Torino rating of 4, which signaled a "1 percent or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devastation."

At least that was the original Torino definition. But because of lessons learned from previous asteroid alerts, astronomers added a disclaimer: "Most likely, new telescopic observations will lead to reassignment to Level 0. Attention by public and by public officials is merited if the encounter is less than a decade away."

Indeed, additional observations removed the risk posed by 2004 MN4, at least in 2029. But some asteroid-watchers worry that the up-and-down movements in Torino ratings are getting the public and the press unnecessarily riled up.

To address the Torino Scale's shortcomings, astronomers developed a more complex system called the Palermo Scale. Theoretically, if an asteroid's Palermo rating is greater than zero, then you should start worrying. Here again, 2004 MN4’s 1.1 rating set off an alarm.

But there's yet another scale that some experts believe can put asteroid risks in their true perspective: the Purgatorio Ratio. It's not so much a rating of the statistical risk, but an assessment of how much we know about an asteroid's future path, compared to the time we have left before a close encounter.

As defined by Brian Marsden, the director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, the Purgatorio Ratio is the "ratio of time covered by observations to the time until impact." If an asteroid has a chance of hitting Earth decades from now, but has been observed for only a very short period of time, the ratio will be low.

"If it's under .01, forget it," Marsden explained. The Purgatorio Ratio for 2004 MN4 was around .02 — just about at the point where you can start getting concerned about the risk, he said. If there's still a possibility of impact as further observations are made, then the ratio will gradually rise, along with the justified concern of astronomers and the general public.

"You can think logically about what might happen and not get too worried," Marsden said.

Interactive: Below the belt In Marsden's view, the Purgatorio Ratio — which he intentionally managed to abbreviate as P.R. — will work better as a yardstick for communicating risk to the general public.

"The calculations are fine, but it's how we talk about them and how we react to them — that's where I think we astronomers have failed," he said.

The idea is already catching on among asteroid-watchers such as Benny Peiser at Liverpool John Moores University, who says he's forsaking the Torino and Palermo scales and plans to use the P.R. exclusively.

As for 2004 MN4, Marsden is relieved that the 2029 close encounter carries no risk of collision — but he still has a nagging worry that the asteroid will come so close that Earth's gravitational field will alter its orbit, introducing another measure of uncertainty for the encounters that follow.

"We may not be able to settle the matter properly until after 2029," he said.

Jan. 25, 2005 | 8:45 p.m. ET
DARPA's Grander Challenge: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency reports that 125 teams from 30 states and three foreign countries have applied to participate in October's robo-car race, with three weeks left before the deadline. That's significantly more teams than participated in last year's first DARPA Grand Challenge . Check out the Grand Challenge Web site for more info, including a full list of the entrants.

Jan. 25, 2005 | 8:45 p.m. ET
Climate critiques: Monday's item on the dueling climate-change reports drew some quick, sharp reactions from Cosmic Log correspondents — and I'm glad to say there are more than a few people out there who are working to keep me on the scientific straight-and-narrow. Here are a few of the replies:

Chris: "Your treatment of the issue of global warming is disgusting. For the same reason that we put airbags in cars and wear helmets while biking, we should pay dire attention to the issue of global warming. In the same way that while driving we may or may not get into an accident, global warming may or may not happen. Yet, if it does, the consequences will be disasterous. At which point out children will be wishing we had paid as much attention to global warming as to the front seats of our cars."

Greg Kovalchuk: "It appears that the need to represent 'both' sides of an issue has clouded many scientific findings of late.  Both opinions should not necessarily be given equal time or emphasis.  In my opinion, to give equal credit to both sides, when thousands of dedicated scientists have spent decades studying and formulating independent ideas concerning global warming based on ice cores and other empirical data, is borderline irresponsible.  Computer models are just that, models.  Numerous variables make any predictions highly suspect.  On the other hand, through comparing contemporary and historical images, satellite images and numerous anectdotal evidence from nearly every part of the world, there are indications that global warming is real, and largely intertwined with man's impacts since the industrial revolution.  To reprint 'maybe we should go out and fire up the SUV' (to save the earth) is a joke and an embarrassment to read....

"Please take into consideration the amount of effort behind each opinion, and next time consider writing an article that has that proportion of effort into what the take home message is. Otherwise, I believe you risk doing the public a great disservice by misinforming them due to one 'squeaky wheel.'"

Brad: "Answer the charges in 'State of Fear,' because the facts Michael Crichton presents have always been there:

"1. Other than the surface ground series, no other temperature series (ice cores, tree rings, ocean temperatures, satellites and weather balloons) shows any warming at all.

"2. The surface ground series is influenced by the urban heat-sink effect, especially since most of the 100-year temperature data from that series is from cities, cities that 100 years ago were grass and dirt and are now heat-absorbing pavement and warm buildings.

"3. There is no evidence of any of the corollary global warming nonsense — no rise in ocean levels, no strengthening or increasing number of hurricanes, etc., etc.

"4. While some of the Arctic has 'melted,' Antarctica has cooled and its ice sheets have thickened.

"5. Greenland, a central talking point of the global cooling hoax of the 1970s, is still clearly much cooler now than it was when it froze out the Vikings 600 years ago.

"Simply parroting the same old tired fearmongering about 'consensus' of clearly biased groups who get their funding from government entities bent on using the fraud to raise taxes (the U.N. in particular) only serves to out you as a clueless parrot on the entire subject.  Michael Crichton has put the 'skeptic' argument in play, and those like you from the left-wing media ought to answer his charges instead of ignoring them and pretending that parroting the U.N. IPCC disproves them. ..."

Reality check: I could try to pick through the research for a point-by-point response (for example, on Antarctic ice cores, sea surface temperatures or urban heat islands). But instead, I'll point you to the Real Climate discussion forum, which I thought had a great back-and-forth debate over Crichton's book.

Patrick Bishop, Caldwell, N.J.: "I recently wanted to educate myself a bit more about James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis and reviewed about a dozen or so recent papers in which the hypothesis figured. If you're interested, the references are here. The gist of it is that there is a kind of face validity to his claim that there is a great redundancy in the planet's ecosystem; Myriad systems operate to maintain a degree of environmental homeostasis. For instance, greenhouse gases are not accumulating in the atmosphere as rapidly as we are dumping them. Something must be removing these gases almost as fast as we can produce them. The answer is flora of both micro- and macroscopic scales. ...

"Here's the thing: Greenhouse gases are only going to accumulate until we exhaust (pun intended) our petroleum reserves. As the Third World develops a middle class with the same appetite for Western-style consumerism as we have in the United States, those reserves are literally going to go up in smoke. Afterward, give it a couple of generations and the environment will cool right off. Of course, our descendants in 2150 will be back to bearskins and stone knives.

"I'm much more concerned about the contamination of the environment by things like heavy metals, synthetic hormones and industrial solvents. Human activity is turning the whole planet into one huge Love Canal. When George Washington was just a boy, his mom would bottle the water from a spring on their property in Fredericksburg, Va., for its medicinal properties. I've seen the spring, and you couldn't pay me to drink from it now."

Jan. 25, 2005 | 8:45 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
Nature: Plastic brains help the blind place sounds
N.Y. Times (reg. req.): Antarctica looks ever more vulnerable
New Scientist: Watching brain waves could quantify libido
Toronto Star: The supernatural is super boring

Jan. 24, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Climate ‘bomb’ ... or boon? Two reports are putting dramatically different perspectives on the past and future of global warming.

One report, presented more as a political document than a research paper, says industrial greenhouse-gas emissions are a ticking “ecological time bomb” that could spark dramatic environmental damage if we pass a point of no return. The other report contends that pre-industrial greenhouse-gas emissions have headed off a global ice age.

Both reports are providing new fodder for the climate gloom-and-doom debate.

The "time bomb" study, issued by a coalition called the International Climate Change Taskforce, calls on the world's leading industrial nations to take urgent action to head off a future climate crisis.

The Independent, a leading British newspaper, says the world has "nearly reached" the point of no return in an article headlined "Countdown to Global Catastrophe." And an earlier article quotes a climate expert as saying we've already hit the danger point.

On the other side, there's the study on past climate change, reported in this month's issue of Quaternary Science Reviews.

Based on work with computerized climate models, a team led by the University of Virginia's William Ruddiman argues that 8,000 years' worth of human activity have helped raise carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere enough to counteract other factors that would have brought on global cooling. Without human-caused enhancements of the greenhouse effect — such as deforestation, farming and the introduction of livestock — northeastern Canada might be covered by a glacial ice sheet today, the researchers say.

This led the Irish Examiner to report that humans may have "saved the world" from another ice age — with the implication that global warming is good for you. In fact, Transterrestrial Musings' Rand Simberg jokes that in light of the East Coast's current cold wave, maybe we aren't doing enough to stave off the glaciers. "Time to go out and fire up the ol' SUV," he writes.

If ice-core data are to be believed, however, the current rise in atmospheric CO2 levels is much more dramatic than the pre-industrial greenhouse effect. Thus, it's not so much a question of whether global warming is good or bad: Some is good, but a whole lot could be bad.

How much is too much? If you accept the premise that humans have affected Earth's climate in the past, then should we be more careful about our influence in the future? Or are the computer models out of joint? For reality checks on climate science, tune into the debate at RealClimate — and feel free to let me know what you think.

Jan. 24, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Mighty microbes: A study published today sheds new light on extremophiles — hardy microbes that thrive in environments where you wouldn't expect to find them, such as Yellowstone's hot springs.

The study, conducted by University of Colorado researchers and appearing in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that the Yellowstone microbes are fueled primarily by hot-spring hydrogen. That runs counter to the popular belief that sulfur served as the microbes' main energy source.

"This work presents some interesting associated questions," John Spear, lead author of the report, said in today's university news release. "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. If there is life elsewhere, it could be that hydrogen is its fuel.

"We've seen evidence of water on Mars, and we know that on Earth, hydrogen can be produced biogenetically by photosynthesis and fermentation or non-biogenetically by water reacting with iron-bearing rock. It's possible that non-biogenic processes produce hydrogen on Mars and that some microbial life form could be using that," Spear said.

Some scientists believe the methane found in the Martian atmosphere is already hinting at the existence of bacteria beneath the Red Planet's surface. Check out this report for more on the life-on-Mars debate.

Jan. 24, 2005 | 9:15 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
The Loom: Of stem cells and Neanderthals
Science News: 'Just another day at the Nobels'
Scientific American: Making memories stick
National Geographic: Syria's cult of the dead

Jan. 21, 2005 | 8 p.m. ET
How would you save Hubble? Today's report that the White House is planning to pull the plug on efforts to fix the Hubble Space Telescope sparked a sharp outcry from the scientific community — and from Cosmic Log readers as well. The verdict from our admittedly unscientific Live Vote is overwhelmingly in favor of going ahead with a shuttle servicing mission.

Can this observatory be saved? "Hubble-huggers" are still hopeful that funding for a robotic or shuttle-led rescue can be revived in a behind-the-scenes budget dance involving the White House's budgeteers, NASA officials and congressional leaders.

But should Hubble be saved? In discussions with NBC News, administration officials point to studies speculating that a robotic mission would have only a 20 percent chance of success, and that the repair cost would be around $2 billion .

Here are some figures for cost comparison: NASA says Hubble's original cost was $1.5 billion, and annual operation costs amount to $250 million. The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, which was launched last year and is returning spectacular pictures , cost just $670 million, thanks to expense-trimming tricks. Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is budgeted at $825 million.

By most accounts, then, fixing the 15-year-old Hubble would cost substantially more than launching a brand-new telescope — perhaps twice as much.

Admittedly, that future telescope would not be as versatile as Hubble, and it wouldn't be designed for servicing in orbit. There would also be a gap of several years between deorbiting Hubble (in 2007-08) and getting its successor up and running (in 2011 or so).

Looking beyond the cold, hard facts, there's another factor complicating the calculations over the space telescope's fate: The American public has had a decade-long love affair with Hubble, because of its awe-inspiring cosmic visions as well as its tale of overcoming technological adversity . Killing Hubble is like killing Bambi.

If the shuttle were able to bring Hubble back down to Earth for an honorable retirement in the Smithsonian, its demise would be easier to take. But to send it blazing through the atmosphere as a piece of cosmic junk? Now we know how the Russians felt about the Mir space station .

With all this in mind, here are some of your suggestions for Hubble:

Brett King, Hong Kong: "The new H-Prize: Why not let NASA offer $250 million to the first commercial organization who successfully can fix the Hubble? It would be the cheapest option and would add some real spice to the private space race."

Tom Montoya: "Why not use the system proposed for towing Hubble into Earth's atmosphere to instead pull it into the same orbit as the international space station? Then, by moving it into close proximity, it could be serviced by the space station crew with little risk. Since the shuttle is already going to the space station, the needed parts could be delivered there."

Chavik: "Hack the thing. Build quadruple redundancy into those gyroscopes. Glue them to the outside or whatever. It was built with four, right? Take 10 or 20 and glue them on the outside and program the things to not turn on until another fails. ... Drive it till the wheels fall off. Let colleges have the access codes and let them use it till it just won't work no more."

Bruce: "The federal government should give the Hubble to the first stock market firm that can have an initial public offering raising enough money to refurbish and use the Hubble. Of course it will never make any money, but neither has NASA, or the combined U.S. airline industry, or the post office, or any U.S. railroad since 1949."

Air Force Staff Sgt. David Douthwright: "Why doesn't NASA launch a grassroots fund-raising attempt toward saving the project? It would be great to see how much money amateur astronomers could raise, and let the people own it."

Robert Markowitz, San Diego: "OK, so money is the root of everything.  Turn the cameras toward Earth, take photos and sell them commercially for road engineering, weather, news, bird's-eye views, advertising, etc.  There's gotta be some creative ways to fix this magnificent instrument."

John Sullivan: "Sell its naming rights and rename the thing. Instead of the Hubble Telescope maybe you name it 'The Bill Gates Universe Scope' or 'The Amazon.com Scope.' They should do this with all of their spacecraft/missions. The agency can raise a lot of private money like this…."

Mardi Coleman, Dallas: "I suggest selling shares of Hubble to the public to raise money for its continued maintenance.  Then, rent 'time' to all interested parties to continue funding its upkeep, with three conditions: The results are made public, it's never used for military purposes, and NASA pledges to gives adequate priority to service missions...."

Paul Breen, San Diego: "Let's 'adjourn' the war in Iraq for two weeks.  The money saved would be enough to service the telescope."

Marc: "Hey, we did it for the tsunami victims ... let's get the Russkies to do the rescue mission.  If NASA abandons Hubble, then it's scrap, right?"

Neil: "Give the Hubble to China. We buy everything else from them. Might as well buy the images they get, too."

Rick Noyes: "Offer a lottery with the winner riding on the shuttle mission to service the Hubble telescope, and all of the proceeds would then be used to finance the repair/maintenance."

Joe: "Push it into a higher orbit and delay its destruction until it can be serviced."

Eduardo: "Maybe they could consider building some kind of giant ball that could wrap the Hubble in space, so when it enters Earth's atmosphere, this huge ball can protect it from the heat. Maybe they can use the same tiles that are used in the space shuttle. This ball can have on the inside some kind of liquid foam, so that when the Hubble is inside the ball, it solidifies and protects the Hubble on impact. They can arrange for the ball to crash into the ocean...."

Jan. 21, 2005 | 8 p.m. ET
The next space millionaire ... will still be Sensors Unlimited founder Greg Olsen, according to a report appearing this week on SpaceDaily. Almost a year ago , Olsen began training for a multimillion-dollar journey to the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, but he was bumped from the mission after only a couple of months due to health concerns. (Word was that he couldn't handle the G-forces associated with spaceflight.)

Video: The new space race Now Space Adventures' Eric Anderson tells SpaceDaily that Olsen is at the top of the list for a Soyuz passenger seat as early as this October. And after Olsen, "there are a couple of others whom we hope to confirm in the months ahead," Anderson says.

All this fits with what Anderson told me last month . It's not clear what's changed in Olsen's health situation since last summer, and neither Olsen nor Anderson responded to efforts to contact them this week. But Olsen clearly has made efforts to correct whatever led the Russian doctors to hold him back.

Last month, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia's space chief as saying that negotiations with two future space passengers were moving ahead. So for all the talk about suborbital space travel, the international space station is likely to serve as the only destination for space tourism for the next couple of years.

That could well change in the 2007-2010 time frame: SpaceX founder Elon Musk has already announced that he's aiming to win a $50 million orbital space prize by 2010, and there are rumors that other high-profile teams are being recruited for the competition.

The prize, funded by hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, is intended to provide a privately developed means of traveling back and forth to the private-sector space station that Bigelow is developing. The first prototype for that station was to be launched on Musk's Falcon 5 rocket in November.  However, Space Race News passes along word that the launch has been delayed until mid-2006.

Jan. 21, 2005 | 8 p.m. ET
Get Cosmic Log alerts: Once upon a time, there was a back-door way to get Cosmic Log delivered to your e-mailbox, by signing up for Cosmic Log on MSN Groups. The log items were sent out to subscribers as a by-product of the archiving process.

For the past year or so, we've been using a different archiving method, and the MSN group has been inactive — but I'm going to revive the group for a little experiment: When I'm finished updating the log each day, I'll send a message out to subscribers letting you know that there's something new to look at. You'll still have to click on a link to read the full log, but at least you'll have a reminder to check the Web site (and get the latest news from MSNBC.com while you're at it).

So if you want to have that kind of notification service, join the Cosmic Log group and see what happens. We might be trying some other experiments aimed at making Cosmic Log more user-friendly in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned and let me know what you think.

Jan. 21, 2005 | 8 p.m. ET
Weekend field trips on the World Wide Web:
Prospect Magazine: Escape from the universe
'Nova' on PBS: 'ScienceNOW' makes its debut
Nature: 'Schrödinger's Mousetrap,' Part 1
The Economist: Evolutionary games people play

The fine print: Looking for older items? Check the Cosmic Log archive. Share your perspective on cosmic subjects with Alan Boyle. If you link to this page, you can use http://cosmiclog.msnbc.com or http://www.cosmiclog.com as the address. MSNBC is not responsible for the content of Internet links.

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