Sunday, May 25, 2008

NASA TV Schedule

NASA Television is now carried on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) - compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD) with modulation of QPSK/DBV, data rate of 36.86 and FEC 3/4 is needed for reception. NASA TV Multichannel Broadcast includes: Public Services Channel (Channel 101); the Education Channel (Channel 102) and the Media Services Channel (Channel 103).

+ Watch NASA TV on the Web
+ View NASA TV Monthly Education Schedule
+ View the regular NASA TV Daily Program Schedule for the Public and Media Channels

The programs listed below are changes to the regular Daily Program Schedule.

All times are Eastern U.S. time.




May 24, Saturday
3 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Briefing - Landing Preview - JPL (Public and Media Channels)

May 25, Sunday
3 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Briefing - JPL (Public and Media Channels)
6 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Landing Coverage - JPL (Media Channel)
6:30 - 8:45 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Landing Coverage - JPL (Public Channel)
9:30 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Briefing - First Downlink of Data - JPL (Public and Media Channels)

May 26, Monday
12 a.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Post Landing Briefing - JPL (Public and Media Channels)
6 - 10 a.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Live Satellite Interviews - JPL (Media Channel)
2 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Update Briefing - JPL (Public and Media Channels)

May 28, Wednesday
6:30 a.m. - STS-124 B-Roll Feed - JSC (Public and Media Channels)
7 - 9 a.m. - Live Interviews with STS-124/1J Lead Space Station Flight Director Annette Hasbrook – JSC (Public and Media Channels)
10 a.m. - Countdown Status Briefing - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
10:30 a.m. - ISS Commentary - JSC (Public and Media Channels)
11:30 a.m. - STS-124 Crew Arrival - (Public and Media Channels)

May 29, Thursday
8 a.m. - Interviews with STS-124 Commander Mark E. Kelly and Mission Specialist Karen L. Nyberg - HQ (Public and Media Channels)
10 a.m. - ISS Commentary and Mission Coverage - JSC (Public and Media Channels)
11 a.m. - STS-124 Launch Readiness News Conference - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
1 p.m. - JAXA Kibo Briefing - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
2 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Briefing - JPL from Tucson (Public and Media Channels)
4 - 6 p.m. - Interviews with STS-124 Pilot Kenneth T. Ham, Mission Specialist Michael E. Fossum and JAXA astronaut, Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide - HQ (Public and Media Channels)

May 30, Friday
9 a.m. - ISS Commentary and Mission Coverage - JSC (Public and Media Channels)
10 a.m. - Countdown Status Briefing - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
11 a.m. - ISS National Science Laboratory Briefing - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
12 p.m. - STS-124 Webcast - KSC (Public and Media Channels)
2 p.m. - Mars Phoenix Lander Update Briefing - JPL from Tucson (Public and Media Channels)

May 31, Saturday
12 p.m. - STS-124 Launch Coverage and Commentary (Launch is scheduled for 5:02 p.m.) - KSC/JSC (Public and Media Channels)


June 13, Friday
4 p.m. - OSTM Prelaunch News Conference - VAFB/KSC (Public and Media Channels)
5 p.m. - OSTM Mission Science Briefing - VAFB/KSC (Public and Media Channels)

June 15, Sunday
2:30 a.m. - OSTM Commentary and Launch Coverage (launch is scheduled for 4:47 a.m.) - VAFB/KSC (Public and Media Channels)

All times Eastern. Programs may be pre-empted without advance notice.

Back to the future, via a donut-shaped vacuum?

Could all our blunders be reversed, our failings eliminated? Perhaps so, if an Israeli scientist's research is to be believed. With the help of Prof. Amos Ori, we might just be able to go back and stop the screw-ups from happening in the first place.

Ori, a physicist from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has come up with what he says are practical solutions to overcome the hindrances that experts have long regarded as stopping us from traveling back in time.

In a paper published in the latest issue of the Physical Review journal, the scientist offers a theoretical model, based on mathematical equations describing conditions that, if established, could help lead to the development of a time machine of sorts. But rather than building an actual device, Ori explains that "the machine is space-time itself."

Time travel research is based on bending space-time so far that the time lines actually warp back on themselves to form a loop.

"We know that bending does happen all the time, but we want the bending to be strong enough and to take a special form where the lines of time make closed loops," explains Ori. "We are trying to find out if it is possible to manipulate space-time to develop in such a way."

While the possibility of time travel has never been ruled out, scientists have identified a number of physical challenges, including a perceived need for some form of exotic matter to create the necessary warp and get the wheels of time to turn back. Such matter is predicted by the quantum field theory to exist, although only in quantities too small for the construction of an actual time machine.

But Ori puts forth a different approach eliminating the need for exotic matter.

"If the proper initial conditions were achieved, the time machine would evolve on its own without any further intervention," he asserts. "It can be likened to shooting a ship with a cannon. Once the cannon is aimed properly and fired, the cannonball hits the ship on its own, driven solely by the laws of physics. The machine is space time itself. If we were to create an area with a warp like this in space that would enable time lines to close on themselves, it might enable future generations to return to visit our time."

But don't pack your bags and get ready to go dinosaur-hunting yet. "We, however," he cautions, "could not return to previous ages because our predecessors did not create this infrastructure for us."

The details of Ori's research are so complicated as to be baffling: In a 2004 paper, Ori outlined a set of conditions that would allow for the creation of a time loop without the need for exotic matter. According to that theory, the time loop would form as a donut-shaped vacuum, inside which time would curve back on itself, so that a person traveling around the loop might be able to go further back in time with each lap. A sphere containing a non-exotic - but unidentified - matter would in turn surround the loop.

But Ori's latest work eliminates the need even for that unidentified matter. His new calculations show that the envelope can in fact be packed with dust, a simple modeling of which is used regularly in theoretical physics, while still allowing for the evolution of a time machine.

Although Ori is certainly not alone in theorizing on time travel - previous theories are well-grounded in Einstein's General Relativity theory - he, like many other scientists, says serious questions remain about the overall stability of a time machine.

His own calculations - done in collaboration with doctoral student Dana Levanony, with those of other physicists, suggest that the evolution of a time machine would be dependent on a very narrow range of initial conditions that might be difficult or even impossible to reach, but he is working to show ways such a configuration could be achieved.

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20-Year Journey for 15-Minute Fall

Michel Fournier will attempt what he has dubbed Le Grand Saut (The Great Leap) on Sunday from the plains of northern Saskatchewan, Canada.

He has spent two decades and nearly $20 million in a quest to fly to the upper reaches of the atmosphere with a helium balloon, just so he can jump back to earth again. Now, Michel Fournier says, he is ready at last.

Depending on the weather, Fournier, a 64-year-old retired French army officer, will attempt what he is calling Le Grand Saut (The Great Leap) on Sunday from the plains of northern Saskatchewan.

He intends to climb into the pressurized gondola of the 650-foot balloon, which resembles a giant jellyfish, and make a two-hour journey to 130,000 feet. At that altitude, almost 25 miles up, Fournier will see both the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth.

Then he plans to step out of the capsule, wearing only a special space suit and a parachute, and plunge in a mere 15 minutes, experiencing weightlessness along the way.

If successful, Fournier will fall longer, farther and faster than anyone in history. Along the way, he can accomplish other firsts, by breaking the sound barrier and records that have stood for nearly 50 years.

“It’s not a question of the world records,” Fournier wrote via e-mail through an interpreter on Friday from his base in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. “What is important are what the results from the jump will bring to the safety of the conquest of space. However, the main question that is being asked today by all scientists is, can a man survive when crossing the sound barrier?”

In the past two weeks, Fournier’s 40-person team has assembled at the launch site, about 90 miles northwest of Saskatoon. The remote Canadian plains were picked after French authorities denied permission because of safety concerns.

Fournier faces plenty of perils. Above 40,000 feet, there is not enough oxygen to breathe in the frigid air. He could experience a fatal embolism. And 12 miles up, should his protective systems fail, his blood could begin to boil because of the air pressure, said Henri Marotte, a professor of physiology at the University of Paris and a member of Fournier’s team.

“If the human body were exposed at very high altitude, the loss of consciousness is very fast, in five seconds,” Marotte said. “Brain damage, in three or four minutes.”

Fournier’s gondola will be sealed, pressurized and equipped with oxygen. He will be in communication with a ground crew on the climb and will be tracked by G.P.S. He will wear a pressure suit and a sealed helmet supplied with oxygen.

“Another problem is decompression sickness,” Marotte said. “You have the same problem with nitrogen as divers who go too quickly from deep to the surface.”

To prevent this, which underwater divers call the bends, Fournier will breathe pure oxygen for two to three hours before liftoff.

Marotte said Fournier would be in free fall for about eight minutes. He would exceed the speed of sound within the first 40 seconds and eventually approach 1,000 miles an hour. His fall would slow at lower altitudes amid increasing wind resistance. His parachute is designed to open at around 5,000 feet.

The gondola will be released from the balloon and is equipped with three parachutes to allow for a safe landing.

Fournier’s jump can set four records: fastest free fall, longest free fall, highest altitude for a human balloon flight and highest parachute jump. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which bills itself as the world’s air-sports organization, sanctions jumps like this.

Fournier has attempted his stunt twice, but technical and weather-related problems foiled the efforts before he left the ground. The most recent attempt, in 2003, failed when his balloon ruptured before takeoff.

Fournier has been preparing physically and mentally for this moment for years, making more than 8,000 jumps and setting a French record from an altitude of more than 39,000 feet, his highest jump to date. By comparison, a standard sky dive is from 12,000 to 13,000 feet.

“I got to say that I’m so excited,” he said in the e-mail message. “It’s my dream coming true. It represents 20 years of work and sacrifices, and today I’m seeing the realizations of all my efforts.”

His quest began in September 1988, when the French space agency selected him to free fall and parachute from near-space. The mission was designed to test the potential for astronauts to escape without a space craft in an emergency. Only two years earlier, NASA’s Challenger shuttle disaster killed seven astronauts.

Fournier was a paratrooper, among other roles in the French army, and was among dozens of candidates subjected to physical and psychological tests before being chosen for the mission. But it never got off the ground; the program folded four months after he was picked to participate.

Yet his resolve only grew, and in 1992, he retired from the military to pursue the project privately. To pay for training and equipment, he has sold his house and most of his belongings. Together with private donations, he has spent almost $20 million.

For two decades, there were few serious competitors. But Steve Truglia, a 45-year-old movie stuntman and a former member of the British Special Forces, said he planned a similar jump over the United States in July.

“My plan is to take that record as soon as possible,” Truglia, a native of London, said by phone recently. “Whatever he does I can beat.”

Truglia holds a British record for an underwater free dive on a single breath (249 feet). A jump from near-space and a chance to reach supersonic speeds represent something more.

“I don’t think there’s a bigger stunt that I’m going to look for after this,” Truglia said. “I can’t think of a bigger stunt, other than perhaps trying to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere with just your body, and I think we’re a long way away from that.”

The highest previous recorded jump from a balloon was performed in 1960 by Joe Kittinger, a United States Air Force test pilot who leaped from 102,800 feet and exceeded 600 miles per hour before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet. He was down in less than 14 minutes.

Reached by phone last week at his home outside Orlando, Fla., Kittinger, 79, said he was surprised his record had stood for so long.

Fournier and Kittinger correspond through e-mail. “I told him many years ago, it’s very hostile,” Kittinger said. “You’re in a vacuum, and your whole life is dependent on the pressure suit working properly. If the pressure suit fails, you die.”

Kittinger is contacted regularly by others interested in breaking his record. “There’s a whole bunch of them out there that are just like Fournier and just like the guy in England,” he said. “Most of them don’t have the money to do it.”

Some say that with scientific information already gathered from this kind of jump, there is little benefit beyond learning what happens to the human body at supersonic speeds. Others suggest that the leap could generate serious interest in space travel, the way the Wright brothers helped inspire aeronautics.

“A front-row seat of space,” Truglia said. “I think that will appeal to a certain sector of society, people that want to adventure and live on the edge.”

But Kittinger expressed skepticism about tourists attempting to cope at such high altitude.

“It was definitely beautiful, but it’s also hostile,” he said. His right hand swelled to twice its normal size when his glove failed to pressurize properly.

From those lonely heights, the speedy return trip was a relief.

“Yes, it was nice to be headed back to earth, because it’s an environment that we can live in,” Kittinger said. “And it’s a beautiful planet, really.”

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Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare

Peter Laskowski stacks firewood at his remote home in Waitsfield, Vt., Friday, April 11, 2008. Convinced that the planet's oil supply is dwindling and the world's economies are heading for a crash, people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn't prepare. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

BUSKIRK, N.Y. - A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandma, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald's, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.

That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world's oil supply. Now, she's preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.

Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

"I was panic-stricken," the 50-year-old recalled, her voice shaking. "Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible."

Convinced the planet's oil supply is dwindling and the world's economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn't prepare.

The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the last few years.

These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that, seeing signs in soaring fuel and food prices and a faltering U.S. economy, and are largely focused on saving themselves.

Some are doing it quietly, giving few details of their preparations — afraid that revealing such information as the location of their supplies will endanger themselves and their loved ones. They envision a future in which the nation's cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water.

"There's going to be things that happen when people can't get things that they need for themselves and their families," said Lynn-Marie, who believes cities could see a rise in violence as early as 2012.

Lynn-Marie asked to be identified by her first name to protect her homestead in rural western Idaho. Many of these survivalists declined to speak to The Associated Press for similar reasons.

These survivalists believe in "peak oil," the idea that world oil production is set to hit a high point and then decline. Scientists who support idea say the amount of oil produced in the world each year has already or will soon begin a downward slide, even amid increased demand. But many scientists say such a scenario will be avoided as other sources of energy come in to fill the void.

On the Web site, where upward of 800 people gathered on recent evenings, believers engage in a debate about what kind of world awaits.

Some members argue there will be no financial crash, but a slow slide into harder times. Some believe the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedoms. Others simply don't trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.

The powers that be, they've determined, will be largely powerless to stop what is to come.

Determined to guard themselves from potentially harsh times ahead, Lynn-Marie and her husband have already planted an orchard of about 40 trees and built a greenhouse on their 7 1/2 acres. They have built their own irrigation system. They've begun to raise chickens and pigs, and they've learned to slaughter them.

The couple have gotten rid of their TV and instead have been reading dusty old books published in their grandparents' era, books that explain the simpler lifestyle they are trying to revive. Lynn-Marie has been teaching herself how to make soap. Her husband, concerned about one day being unable to get medications, has been training to become an herbalist.

By 2012, they expect to power their property with solar panels, and produce their own meat, milk and vegetables. When things start to fall apart, they expect their children and grandchildren will come back home and help them work the land. She envisions a day when the family may have to decide whether to turn needy people away from their door.

"People will be unprepared," she said. "And we can imagine marauding hordes."

So can Peter Laskowski. Living in a woodsy area outside of Montpelier, Vt., the 57-year-old retiree has become the local constable and a deputy sheriff for his county, as well as an emergency medical technician.

"I decided there was nothing like getting the training myself to deal with insurrections, if that's a possibility," said the former executive recruiter.

Laskowski is taking steps similar to environmentalists: conserving fuel, consuming less, studying global warming, and relying on local produce and craftsmen. Laskowski is powering his home with solar panels and is raising fish, geese, ducks and sheep. He has planted apple and pear trees and is growing lettuce, spinach and corn.

Whenever possible, he uses his bicycle to get into town.

"I remember the oil crisis in '73; I remember waiting in line for gas," Laskowski said. "If there is a disruption in the oil supply it will be very quickly elevated into a disaster."

Breault said she hopes to someday band together with her neighbors to form a self-sufficient community. Women will always be having babies, she notes, and she imagines her skills as a midwife will always be in demand.

For now, she is readying for the more immediate work ahead: There's a root cellar to dig, fruit trees and vegetable plots to plant. She has put a bicycle on layaway, and soon she'll be able to bike to visit her grandkids even if there is no oil at the pump.

Whatever the shape of things yet to come, she said, she's done what she can to prepare.

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CO2 Burial Schemes Get Green Light

Quick, Before It Escapes...
Quick, Before It Escapes...

Fossil fuel burning wouldn't be so bad for the environment, were it not for all of the climate-changing carbon dioxide released in the process.

One solution could be to catch it before it escapes from a coal-burning power plant and lock it away underground. That may sound crazy -- and some say it is -- but carbon capture and storage (CCS) is moving closer to reality.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced earlier this month their funding -- to the tune of $126 million -- of two large-scale carbon storage projects in California and the Midwest. The DOE had previously announced $253.7 million in funding for four others.

"The announcement of these two projects, making a total of six, each with a minimum of a million tons [of CO2 injected underground], is a massive step forward," said Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

"It's been recognized for a while that there need to be many large-scale injections to learn what it is we need to learn," Friedmann said.

Companies have been injecting CO2 into the ground already, including in efforts to help force the last bits of oil out of oilfields, but the scale does not match what is needed to store CO2 from coal-fired plants.

"The next tier of questions include ones that really require a large, sustained injection," said Friedmann.

These projects will help researchers understand how the Earth's crust deforms as large volumes of CO2 are pumped underground, and which sites are the best for storing CO2, Friedmann said.

The Carbon Conundrum

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is drafting regulations to address how sites for CO2 burial should be selected, managed and monitored and to address questions of who pays if something goes wrong. These will be released in July --- a fast track for rulemaking, sources said.

"Having the regulations established is going to be helpful in moving the technology forward," said Sarah Forbes of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

To Friedmann and Forbes, advancing the use of CCS is critical for addressing climate change.

"You have a new coal plant in China and India being built every single day," Forbes said. "The climate change problem is so big, and you can't address it without addressing coal."

"I've worked on analyses where I've said, 'Let's make wild assumptions about the progress of renewables and whether we still need CCS,' and I think the answer is we do," Forbes added.

But others disagree.

Misplaced Energy?

Emily Rochon of Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, Netherlands, said their calculations show emissions targets can be met through developing renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency while phasing out coal.

"The problem with CCS is that it will completely derail efforts to get off coal," Rochon said. "It's not going to be any easier 30 years from now to make the transition to renewables. It's not going to be any faster. And by then, it's probably too late."

Rochon is the lead author on a Greenpeace report published earlier this month arguing against CCS.

Rochon points out that coal brings with it many environmental costs besides CO2: "Even if CCS can ameliorate CO2, we're still going to be blowing the tops off of mountains and dumping the tailings."

"One of the better articulated arguments against CCS is that it prolongs a coal economy and that there are big problems with the coal economy," Friedmann concedes. "There are just people who don't like coal. The best argument against that is, 'Are you prepared to triple the cost of electricity to fix the climate problem?' If you aren't, we need this option."

The Technology Is One Thing

Rochon also worries that industry's pledges to build plants that are "capture ready" -- suitable for installing equipment to capture CO2 once economics or regulations drive action -- provide no guarantee that the technology will ever be used.

Since CCS adds a large cost to coal combustion, there is little incentive for power plants to push forward until CO2 emissions cost something, said civil and environmental engineer Michael Celia, of Princeton University in Princeton, NJ.

"Right now we don't know if carbon is going to have a price and what that price may be," Celia said. "Until those are given much more certainty it's hard to imagine that much is going to go forward."

How It Works

Capturing CO2 from industrial processes can be done in a few ways. Most commonly the gas from combustion passes through a liquid containing amines that absorb the CO2.

The CO2 is then separated and compressed into a "supercritical fluid" that behaves much like a liquid. From there, the CO2 is transported to sequestration sites along pipelines. Some of these already exist for transporting CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, but widespread CCS would require a much bigger network.

The CO2 is injected at least a kilometer or so underground. At that depth, the temperature and pressure are high enough that the CO2 will remain in the supercritical, liquid-like state.

The key to making it stay down there is choosing the right site. The CO2 needs to be injected into porous rock layers that have room for it, but below impermeable layers that can act as a cap to keep the CO2 trapped beneath.

One of the concerns has been whether such sites may leak.

"I am not worried about leaks with proper regulation and siting," said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, Calif.

But, he adds, "The incentive to the industry will be to put the CO2 in the cheapest, easiest place, which may not be the best place. So it all depends on good regulation and enforcement."

Waiting Game

Although the Greenpeace report cites sources saying CCS won't be practically available until 2030, others suggest that the reasons for the delay are political and regulatory, not technical.

"All of the major technologies needed for this are available. If there were a serious political will to make this happen, it could happen in the near term," Celia said.

But Rochon said such efforts would come at the cost of funding for renewables, which should be a higher priority.

"The concern with the cost of CCS is the fact that industry is asking the government to fund it and that therefore it takes away from funding for renewables," she said.

Friedmann, Forbes and Celia agree that efforts in renewables and efficiency are just as important, but, Celia said, "We need many solutions."

"There's been growing awareness that there really is a climate crisis," Friedmann added. "And we need to fire on all pistons quickly."

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150-year-old Monkey puzzle tree facing chop because council says its needles are 'like syringes'

For 150 years, it has stood in splendid serenity on the village green, harming no one and pleasing many.

Over the decades, the monkey puzzle tree at West Cross, near Swansea, became a much-loved local landmark.

But now it is facing the chop … because, in modern Britain, the needle-like points of its leaves are deemed a danger to health and safety.

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Threatened: A 150-year-old monkey puzzle tree is facing the chop after health and safety experts said its needles could injure schoolchildren

One expert likened the effect of the needles to being pricked by a hypodermic syringe.

‘Every effort is made in this day and age to prevent children playing with discarded syringe needles,’ a report stated.

‘Every effort must be made to prevent children coming into contact with these potentially, equally sharp needles.’

But a campaign to save the 50ft tree, also known as a Chilean Pine, has been launched by residents, who insist the prickly foliage is not likely to present the same risk of spreading infectious diseases as a discarded syringe.

The protest is being led by Mike and Carol Crafer, who are threatening

to sell up if the tree – which stands in front of their home – is axed. ‘It’s another case of health and safety gone mad,’ said Mrs Crafer, a 49-yearold mother of two. ‘The tree’s needles are not that dangerous – comparing them to syringes is ridiculous.

‘The tree is part of the local landscape and has been for a century and a half. It rarely sheds its foliage and there are plenty of volunteers here who would be happy to clear up the needles.’

Danger: Tom Henderson, five, of West Cross, Swansea, with one of the needles

Her husband, a 57-year-old sustainability manager with Thames Water, said: ‘This is a crazy decision to cut the tree down.

‘We have put this to the test by trying to prick ourselves with the needles, but have not been able to – that’s how dangerous they are.’

The Crafers led more than 30 banner-waving residents in a protest against Swansea Council’s decision to cut the tree down,

The council brought in two independent health and safety experts who both advised to give the monkey puzzle the chop, especially since a new school is being opened nearby.

A council spokesman said: ‘Safety experts have said the tree is too much of a risk to children for it to remain.

‘One expert likened the tree foliage to discarded syringe needles and warns they pose a probable risk of serious injury to children. The authority could find itself defending any litigation, should this arise.’

However, Martin Caton, MP for Gower, Swansea, yesterday said the decision ‘stinks’.

He added: ‘ I urge everyone who cares about the quality of their environment to protest against this council plan.’

The monkey puzzle tree: A 'living fossil' the dinosaurs dined on

• The monkey puzzle tree is native to the Andes of Chile and Argentina.

• Plant collector Archibald Menzies is thought to have introduced it to Britain in

• It got its name when a gardener in Cornwall was showing his specimen to friends and one remarked: ‘It would puzzle a monkey to climb that.’

• It is sometimes associated with bad luck.

• Often described as a living fossil, its family the Araucariaceae can be traced back to the Mesozoic era, which started 250million years ago.

• Far from deterring monkeys, the spiky leaves probably developed to try to fend off grazing dinosaurs.

• Araucarias can live for 1,200 years and reach 160ft.

• To some indigenous peoples of Chile and Argentina, the tree is sacred.

• The seeds were traditionally collected as a food crop.

• Trade in its timber is now banned because it is so rare.

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Prius hits 1 M in Sales, Saves 450 M Tons of Carbon

Toyota has announced that their worldwide cumulative sales of their popular Prius has just exceeded, 1,000,000 units. Over 600,000 of these have been purchased in the last 3 years alone, showing a rapidly growing demand for the vehicle since its introduction in 1997. In 2007, Toyota saw an increase in 51% in sales for the hybrid versus 2006, a claim that none of the SUV-powered American manufacturers can come close to matching, in fact, their market shares are steadily declining.

Based on their sales, Toyota has calculated that comparing straight gasoline vehicles in the same class and similar size and driving performance, their cars have prevented 4.5 million tons of CO2 from being released in the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent to about 535,500,000 gallons of fuel or, at todays prices, $2.01 Billion saved. That’s a lot of… well, everything! And the 2010 version should be even greener!

While the standard package Prius (Japan) currently gets about 71mpg, their upcoming models, including a plug-in version promised for 2010, should be over the 100mpg level. If you can’t wait until then, A123 Systems has officially started taking orders for their 2004-onwards Prius conversion kit which will give you that 100mpg+ immediately, though at a cost of about $10K.

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