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Thursday, December 25, 2008

40 Years Later, Apollo 8 Moon Mission Still Awes

by Nell Greenfieldboyce

The first three humans ever to orbit the moon are shown returning safely to Earth.

The first three humans ever to orbit the moon are shown returning safely to Earth. NASA

The Apollo 8 iconic image of the Earth rising over the moon's horizon.

The Apollo 8 crew were the first humans to witness the Earth rising over the moon's horizon. NASA

Morning Edition, December 24, 2008 · On Christmas Eve in 1968, Americans turned on their TV sets to watch something unprecedented: a live broadcast from outer space.

Three astronauts were orbiting the moon, sending back images of the gray craters and mountains that were passing by about 70 miles below their tiny spacecraft.

Never before had humans left Earth to circle another celestial body, one that was more than 200,000 miles away. The Apollo 8 mission changed the way that earthlings saw themselves and their world.

After describing the moon, the three astronauts read the first 10 verses of the King James Bible. That was a choice made by Commander Frank Borman, who had asked a friend for a suggestion. He knew the broadcast from lunar orbit would have the biggest audience in history.

"The only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate," Borman said recently. "That, to me, has always been the epitome of what this country's all about."

At the time, NASA was racing the Soviet Union to the moon. Borman says that "if my name would have been Leonov or Titov, I would have been extolling the virtues of Stalin or Lenin or somebody else."

A Bold Move To Beat The Soviets

Borman and his crewmates, James Lovell and William Anders, recently recalled their famous mission at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. They explained that NASA originally planned for them to stay low in Earth's orbit, like all the previous missions, to perform in-space tests of a lunar lander.

But development of that vehicle was delayed. And NASA suspected the Soviets might soon try to send a cosmonaut into lunar orbit. So in August 1968, the agency's top officials made a bold decision: Apollo 8 would try to get to the moon first.

On the morning of the Dec. 21 launch, Lovell said he was standing near the top of the Saturn V, a new rocket taller than a 36-story building and more powerful than any ever ridden before. The sun hadn't risen, and he recalled looking down and seeing the lights of the press corps far below: "And I looked at the press corps and I said, 'These people are really serious! We're going to go to the moon!' It suddenly dawned on me that this was not another Earth orbital flight."

Far Away And Tiny In The Darkness

The rocket blasted off with a huge spread of flame and hurled the men into space. They became the first earthlings to watch their home planet grow smaller and smaller and smaller, until it was floating far away and tiny in the darkness.

NASA flight controller Glynn Lunney watched the Christmas Eve broadcast at Houston's Mission Control. He says he was startled and deeply moved to hear the familiar words of Genesis beaming back from an alien world.

"It's almost like thinking about the human race growing up, coming out of the caves, growing up, making all the mistakes that we do, and then somehow having the intellectual ability to create something that goes to the moon," Lunney says. "It's sort of like ... it's our best."

It came at a time when Americans needed to be reminded that the best was still in them. "There was a lot of stuff that preceded Apollo 8 in the calendar year of 1968," Lunney says. "Almost all of it was bad."

A Happy Success In A Tough Year

The year started with the shock of the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert Kennedy were shot dead. It was a year when, if you turned on your television, you might see people rioting in the streets.

Roger Launius, a space historian at the Smithsonian, says that because Apollo 8 came at the end of such a desperate time, "I would contend that it may have been even more of a striking success from a public perspective than the Apollo 11 landing was the next year."

He notes that the mission also is linked with the famous photo called "Earthrise" that shows a small, far-away Earth rising over the lunar horizon. The image of a beautiful, fragile Earth floating alone in a vast darkness helped jump-start the environmental movement, Launius says.

These days, the U.S. and Russia cooperate in space, with each other and with other nations. The partners have almost completed construction of a massive space station that is inhabited year-round. NASA's aging shuttles take different people back and forth a few times a year.

"I know people have gotten used to shuttle flights, and it's hard to distinguish one shuttle flight from another today," says Lunney of NASA. The agency wants return to the moon and someday go on to Mars. Even so, it's not clear if anything could recapture the transformative power of missions such as Apollo 8.

"Hopefully, we will have more Apollo 8 moments in the future," Lunney says, "but I would grant you that it seems on the surface that opportunities for that are relatively a handful in number."

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Apollo 8 astronauts remember historic voyage

By Arthur Brice
CNN

(CNN) -- Forty years ago this week, three men in a tiny spacecraft slipped their earthly bonds and traveled where no one else had before, circling the moon 10 times and bringing back an iconic image of a blue-and-white Earth in the distance, solitary but bound as one against the black vastness beyond.

Host Nick Clooney (left) and astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders answer questions in October.

Host Nick Clooney (left) and astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders answer questions in October.


The voyage of Apollo 8 from December 21-27, 1968, marked humans' first venture to another heavenly body.

"We were flying to the moon for the first time," said Jim Lovell, one of the three astronauts aboard the historic flight. "Seeing the far side of the moon for the first time. Coming around and seeing the Earth as it really is -- a small fragile planet with a rather normal star, our sun."

But beyond the monumental aspects of such a scientific achievement, the feat was a major psychological and emotional boost for many Americans at the end of a particularly bad year in U.S. history.

The Tet offensive in January 1968 had left many Americans shocked and doubting that victory in Vietnam was possible. In April, the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and streets throughout the nation erupted in fire and fury. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down two months later.

That summer, the nation watched in horror as police and anti-war protesters battled in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

The launch of Apollo 7 in October was a major victory for NASA, putting the space program back on track after a 22-month interruption because of a launch pad fire that had killed three astronauts in January 1967.

Then came Apollo 8.


"Providence happened to put everything together at the end of the year to give the American public an uplift after what had been a poor year," Lovell told CNN on Monday.

Reaching the moon was "a big psychological step," said Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham.

"The public said, 'Hey, human beings are going to another body in the solar system,' " Cunningham told CNN in a telephone interview from his home in Houston, Texas.

The mission produced one of the most famous photos from the space program, showing a large chunk of gray moon in the foreground and a dappled blue-and-white, three-quarter Earth rising in the distance.

Apollo 8 also produced what to many was one of the most inspirational and soothing moments in history when Lovell and crewmates Frank Borman and William A. Anders took turns reading from the Book of Genesis. It was Christmas Eve and the whole world was watching. NASA said at the time it was expected to be the largest TV audience to date.

The astronauts signed off with these words: "And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

The timing could not have been better, Lovell said.

"It happened that it all jelled," he said by telephone. "The fact that we circled the moon on Christmas Eve. A screenwriter couldn't have done a better job."

The success of the mission also gave the United States a major boost in its race against the Soviet Union to see who would get to the moon first. The United States would land two men on the moon in the summer of 1969 on Apollo 11, beating the Soviets and fulfilling a goal set by former President John F. Kennedy at the beginning of the decade.

"There was a great psychological significance of sending a spacecraft to the moon," Cunningham said. "It was not a psychological leap for any of us [astronauts] to go to the moon."

The astronauts, he said, were used to taking risks and knew they could do it. But NASA officials had some tough choices to make.

"For the people on the ground, it was a big step for them," Cunningham said. "Making life-and-death decisions about somebody else's life is a lot more difficult than making one about your own."

For astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth person to walk on the moon, the Apollo 8 mission signified a major milestone in human history, much like when the Phoenicians started exploring the Mediterranean Sea nearly 3,000 years earlier.

"We became citizens of the galaxy, as opposed to citizens of the planet," Mitchell said Monday.

"For my parents' generation, it was aviation," said Mitchell, who is 78. "My generation went off the planet altogether. We became the first generation of spacefarers."

For the astronauts, most of them former test pilots, going to the moon was just another job.

Were they fully aware of the significance of what they were accomplishing, Lovell is asked.

"No," he says immediately. "We were focused on trying to do the right thing. Focused on trying to accomplish something."

Lovell went on to fly another historic mission, Apollo 13 in April 1970. That flight, which he commanded, became famous when an oxygen system aboard the craft blew up and the three astronauts had to limp around the moon and back to Earth using makeshift and improvised systems. Their triumph over adversity was immortalized in the movie "Apollo 13," in which Tom Hanks played Lovell.

Lovell was supposed to land on the moon that time, but did not make it.

"Twice a bridesmaid, never a bride," he said with a laugh, admitting that for years he harbored resentment that the mission had been a "failure."

It was only in later years, Lovell said, that he fully realized what a success that mission had been, as he and his two crewmates returned safely to Earth.

"It is mind-boggling in some respects," he said Monday.

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NASA Looks Forward Beyond 2008 Successes


At NASA, 2008 will be remembered for shuttle missions, discoveries on Mars, and mysteries revealed across the solar system and beyond. While looking back at the U.S. space agency's 2008 successes, VOA looks at the agency's uncertain future and its plans to bring humankind to Moon.

NASA's Constellation project is accelerating, with engineers building and testing rockets and capsules that will be the primary vehicles for human space exploration after the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

The core of NASA's current activities is a return to the moon, with astronauts landing there by 2020.

TS-126 spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper rides the International Space Station's Canadarm2 to space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay, 18 Nov 2008
TS-126 spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper rides the International Space Station's Canadarm2 to space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay, 18 Nov 2008
Meanwhile the International Space Station has been racing towards completion.

In February, the Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on the first of four missions to the space station. In 2008, repairs and upgrades doubled the station's crew capacity. Two major science labs were delivered.

In 2009, a new solar wing - to generate energy - will complete major additions.

In 2008, NASA's unmanned probes caught the public's attention. Three around the sun began sending data and the first ever three dimensional images of the star.

The Cassini spacecraft passed through Saturn's rings and turned its instruments on one of the planet's moons, analyzing icy geysers that erupt from its interior.

Photo of Mercury's surface, taken by MESSENGER
Photo of Mercury's surface, taken by MESSENGER
The MESSENGER probe flew by the planet Mercury twice, mapping its surface.

The fascination with Mars grew with six spacecraft exploring the red planet.

For many, the most exciting moment came when the unmanned probe Phoenix completed its 10-month journey, landing on the red planet in May.

The probe dug into the planet's surface and confirmed the presence of frozen water, a sign there could have been life on Mars at some time in the past.

A pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147 is more than 400 million light-years away from Earth
A pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147 is more than 400 million light-years away from Earth
The Hubble Space Telescope continued to focus on distant worlds, bringing images of colliding galaxies and more. 2008 will be remembered for Hubble's gift of the first ever image of a planet outside our solar system.

Despite budget uncertainties, eight shuttle missions, almost all to the space station, are planned before the fleet is retired.

NASA's long term plans are to build a permanent base on the moon that may one day be used as a launching pad for manned flights to Mars.

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Unmasking Jupiter's Europa -Does Its Hidden Ocean Harbor Life?

Europa. One of the most interesting non-Earth locations in the solar system. Never mind ice and occasional puddles, this moon has entire oceans - and where there's water, we can't help but hope there's life. Recent results show that there are heat sources to drive evolution of such as well, but there's still debate over what's actually going on in there.

The key point of contention is the satellites crunchy ice covering. We know that the Jovian moon is coated in kilometers of frozen material, but that sort of handwaving figure can get you in trouble - exactly how many kilometers there are can make all the difference. We believe that the European core is heated by the massive tidal forces applied by Jupiter - but how does that heat radiate into space?

Most scientists believe that the subEuropan seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice. Heat is then conducted from the warm core by bulk convective motion of ice - huge chunks of frozen material literally carrying the heat away with them as they move up through the icy layer, shuffling and refreezing as they dump heat into space.

Professor Richard Greenberg believes that the crust is thin, only a kilometer or so, and heat is carried out by simple conduction - much slower, but providing a constant flow of energy through a relatively fixed underwater region bordering the immense cliffs of ice.

Greenberg does weaken his case by accusing a "Big Ice" cabal of scientists of suppressing his results, holding back his views to favor their own established model. The thing is, when you start talking about a conspiracy against you it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong: you sound a bit crazy. Especially when that "cabal" isn't a hidden core of ultra-billionaires, but probably about twenty guys with tenure who meet twice a year to talk about space moons.

On the upside, it seems the shadowy Europa lobby can't keep him silent and he's printing a book, "Unmasking Europa", putting forward his views and setting up the mother of all "I told you so"s if it turns out he's right. Again, he slightly weakens his case by fantasising an entire Europan ecosystem based on a few flybys of the Galileo probe, and it's not as if popular opinion will actually sway the scientists investigating the issue.

What is important is that such issues do now percolate to the public, one way or another. Science is no longer the preserve of those either rich enough to afford it or trying to build missiles out of it. Beside the cook books and crime novels you can find imaginings of the stars, controversies of the cosmos, and books about the entire universe. Which are slightly more interesting than "Five things you can do with leftovers" by Dolores Housewife.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Artificial Human Bone Marrow Created In A Test Tube


Researchers have created artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan)

Artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells has been created in a University of Michigan lab.

This development could lead to simpler pharmaceutical drug testing, closer study of immune system defects and a continuous supply of blood for transfusions.

The substance grows on a 3-D scaffold that mimics the tissues supporting bone marrow in the body, said Nicholas Kotov, a professor in the U-M departments of Chemical Engineering; Materials Science and Engineering; and Biomedical Engineering.

The marrow is not made to be implanted in the body, like most 3-D biomedical scaffolds. It is designed to function in a test tube.

Kotov, principal investigator, is an author of a paper about the research currently published online in the journal Biomaterials. Joan Nichols, professor from the University of Texas Medical Branch, collaborated on many aspects of the project.

"This is the first successful artificial bone marrow," Kotov said. "It has two of the essential functions of bone marrow. It can replicate blood stem cells and produce B cells. The latter are the key immune cells producing antibodies that are important to fighting many diseases."

Blood stem cells give rise to blood as well as several other types of cells. B cells, a type of white blood cell, battle colds, bacterial infections, and other foreign or abnormal cells including some cancers.

Cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs can strongly suppress bone marrow function, leaving the body more susceptible to infection. The new artificial marrow could allow researchers to test how a new drug at certain potencies would affect bone marrow function, Kotov said. This could assist in drug development and catch severe side effects before human drug trials.

Bone marrow is a complicated organ to replicate, Kotov said. Vital to the success of this new development is the three-dimensional scaffold on which the artificial marrow grows. This lattice had to have a high number of precisely-sized pores to stimulate cellular interaction.

The scaffolds are made out of a transparent polymer that nutrients can easily pass through. To create the scaffolds, scientists molded the polymer with tiny spheres ordered like billiard balls. Then, they dissolved the spheres to leave the perfect geometry of pores in the scaffold.

The scaffolds were then seeded with bone marrow stromal cells and osteoblasts, another type of bone marrow cell.

"The geometrical perfection of the polymer molded by spheres is very essential for reproducibility of the drug tests and evaluation of potential drug candidates," Kotov said. "The scaffold for this work had to be designed from scratch closely mimicking real bone marrow because there are no suitable commercially products.

"Certain stem cells that are essential for immunity and blood production are able to grow, divide and differentiate efficiently in these scaffolds due to the close similarity of the pores in the scaffold and the pores in actual bone marrow."

The researchers demonstrated that the artificial marrow gives a human-like response to an infectious New Caledonia/99/H1N1 flu virus. This is believed to be a first.

To determine whether the substance behaves like real bone marrow, the scientists implanted it in mice with immune deficiencies. The mice produced human immune cells and blood vessels grew through the substance.

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A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit


By NATALIE ANGIER

When considering the behavior of putative scam operators like Bernard “Ponzi scheme” Madoff or Rod “Potty Mouth” Blagojevich, feel free to express a sense of outrage, indignation, disgust, despair, amusement, schadenfreude. But surprise? Don’t make me laugh.

Sure, Mr. Madoff may have bilked his clients of $50 billion, and Governor Blagojevich, of Illinois, stands accused of seeking personal gain through the illicit sale of public property — a United States Senate seat. Yet while the scale of their maneuvers may have been exceptional, their apparent willingness to lie, cheat, bluff and deceive most emphatically was not.

Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.

In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.

Much evidence suggests that we humans, with our densely corrugated neocortex, lie to one another chronically and with aplomb. Investigating what they called “lying in day-to-day life,” Bella DePaulo, now a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues asked 77 college students and 70 people from the community to keep anonymous diaries for a week and to note the hows and whys of every lie they told.

Tallying the results, the researchers found that the college students told an average of two lies a day, community members one a day, and that most of the lies fell into the minor fib category. “I told him I missed him and thought about him every day when I really don’t think about him at all,” wrote one participant. “Said I sent the check this morning,” wrote another.

In a follow-up study, the researchers asked participants to describe the worst lies they’d ever told, and then out came confessions of adultery, of defrauding an employer, of lying on a witness stand to protect an employer. When asked how they felt about their lies, many described being haunted with guilt, but others confessed that once they realized they’d gotten away with a whopper, why, they did it again, and again.

In truth, it’s all too easy to lie. In more than 100 studies, researchers have asked participants questions like, Is the person on the videotape lying or telling the truth? Subjects guess correctly about 54 percent of the time, which is barely better than they’d do by flipping a coin. Our lie blindness suggests to some researchers a human desire to be deceived, a preference for the stylishly accoutred fable over the naked truth.

“There’s a counterintuitive motivation not to detect lies, or we would have become much better at it,” said Angela Crossman, an assistant professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But you may not really want to know that the dinner you just cooked stinks, or even that your spouse is cheating on you.”

The natural world is rife with humbug and fish tales, of things not being what they seem. Harmless viceroy butterflies mimic toxic monarch butterflies, parent birds draw predators away from the nest by feigning a broken wing, angler fish lure prey with appendages that wiggle like worms.

Biologists distinguish between such cases of innate or automatic deception, however, and so-called tactical deception, the use of a normal behavior in a novel situation, with the express purpose of misleading an observer. Tactical deception requires considerable behavioral suppleness, which is why it’s most often observed in the brainiest animals.

Great apes, for example, make great fakers. Frans B. M. de Waal, a professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory University, said chimpanzees or orangutans in captivity sometimes tried to lure human strangers over to their enclosure by holding out a piece of straw while putting on their friendliest face.

“People think, Oh, he likes me, and they approach,” Dr. de Waal said. “And before you know it, the ape has grabbed their ankle and is closing in for the bite. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Apes wouldn’t try this on their own kind. “They know each other too well to get away with it,” Dr. de Waal said. “Holding out a straw with a sweet face is such a cheap trick, only a naïve human would fall for it.”

Apes do try to deceive one another. Chimpanzees grin when they’re nervous, and when rival adult males approach each other, they sometimes take a moment to turn away and close their grins with their hands. Similarly, should a young male be courting a female and spot the alpha male nearby, the subordinate chimpanzee will instantly try to cloak his amorous intentions by dropping his hands over his erection.

Rhesus monkeys are also artful dodgers. “There’s a long set of studies showing that the monkeys are very good at stealing from us,” said Laurie R. Santos, an associate professor of psychology at Yale University.

Reporting recently in Animal Behavior, Dr. Santos and her colleagues also showed that, after watching food being placed in two different boxes, one with merrily jingling bells on the lid and the other with bells from which the clappers had been removed, rhesus monkeys preferentially stole from the box with the silenced bells. “We’ve been hard-pressed to come up with an explanation that’s not mentalistic,” Dr. Santos said. “The monkeys have to make a generalization — I can hear these things, so they, the humans, can, too.”

One safe generalization seems to be that humans are real suckers. After dolphin trainers at the Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Mississippi had taught the dolphins to clean the pools of trash by rewarding the mammals with a fish for every haul they brought in, one female dolphin figured out how to hide trash under a rock at the bottom of the pool and bring it up to the trainers one small piece at a time.

We’re desperate to believe that what our loved ones say is true. And now we find otherwise. Oh, Flipper, et tu?

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Government buildings emit more CO2 than all of Kenya

Robert Booth

The Houses of Parliament seen during a rain shower

he Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together consumed enough electricity and gas to emit 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year. Photograph: Russell Boyce/Reuters

Public buildings in England and Wales are pumping out 11m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, more than Kenya's entire carbon footprint, the Guardian can reveal.

Unpublished findings of an energy efficiency audit of 18,000 buildings including ministerial offices, police stations, museums and art galleries reveal that the 9,000 buildings audited so far produce 5.6m tonnes of CO2, with one in six receiving the lowest possible energy efficiency rating.

The carbon dioxide they produce is the equivalent of all the greenhouse gas emissions saved by the UK's wind power industry.

Ignorance among officials, inefficient equipment and poor energy management have been cited as reasons for the result, which was described as "lamentable" by environmental campaigners. It comes despite ministerial pledges to slash the carbon footprint of government offices by 30% over the next 12 years compared with 1999-2000 levels.

Officials expect the carbon footprint to double when the audit is completed. Almost half of those tested so far have received an energy efficiency rating of E, F or G, the lowest possible and the equivalent of a gas guzzling car.

Embarrassingly for Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, his department's head office in Whitehall Place is one of the worst offenders. It pumps out 1,336 tonnes of CO2 a year and received a G rating. The Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together consumed enough electricity and gas to emit 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of more than 14,000 people flying from London to New York.

Almost 70% of public offices had a larger carbon footprint than a typical office, as defined by the government, and while only 55 of the 8,849 buildings examined so far received an A ranking, 1,514 scored a G. The data was released following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

In response, environmental campaigners and opposition parties called on the government to invest in an urgent programme of refurbishment to reduce the carbon footprint of the public estate, and cut energy bills for the public sector which currently add up to around £4bn a year.

"This confirms that the leadership society needs from government on reducing carbon emissions from buildings isn't there," said Tony Juniper, an independent sustainability campaigner and former director of Friends of the Earth. "For the UK to have any chance of meeting the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, which is now enshrined in law, there has to be radical change in this area."

Earlier this year, the government's own architecture adviser, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, said the majority of government departments were "failing to make their new buildings and refurbishments sustainable" and that those operating them had little idea how to improve their efficiency.

"These figures show there is a desperate need to sort out the public building stock," said Steve Webb, spokesman on energy and climate change for the Lib Dems. "If business and householders see the public sector is not taking energy efficiency seriously, they will wonder why they should do so themselves. Instead of making a £12bn VAT cut, the government should have spent some of that money making public buildings energy efficient, saving money and carbon in the long term."

Buildings consume close to half of the electricity and heat produced by the power sector, according to Sir Nicholas Stern's review of the economics of climate change. On current trends, Stern predicted CO2 emissions from buildings will rise 140% by 2050.

John Alker, public affairs manager of the UK Green Building Council, said: "Many of our public sector offices, schools and hospitals are the building equivalent of gas-guzzling cars.

The government has set a target to cut CO2 by 30% from its own buildings by 2020. Frankly, they should do more because their track record leaves a lot to be desired. We need a comprehensive programme of green refurbishment in the public sector, which is responsible for about a third of all non-domestic buildings."

But plans to "green" the Palace of Westminster as an example to the rest of the public sector, have been scaled back, the Guardian has learned. Designs for wind and tidal turbines and solar panels to produce electricity are now unlikely to come to fruition after calculations that the investment needed would not result in quick-enough savings on energy bills.

A spokesman for the Office of Government Commerce, which has responsibility for the energy performance of public buildings, said it had set up a centre of expertise to help the public sector improve energy efficiency and meet government targets. "A comprehensive delivery plan has been produced detailing departmental activities to achieve the targets for sustainable operations across Whitehall, and real progress continues to be made," he said.

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Nation's First 'Underwater Wind Turbine' Installed in Old Man River

By Alexis Madrigal

Hydrokinetic

The nation's first commercial hydrokinetic turbine, which harnesses the power from moving water without the construction of a dam, has splashed into the waters of the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minnesota.

The 35-kilowatt turbine is positioned downstream from an existing hydroelectric-plant dam and — together with another turbine to be installed soon — will increase the capacity of the plant by more than 5 percent. The numbers aren't big, but the rig's installation could be the start of an important trend in green energy.

And that could mean more of these "wind turbines for the water" will be generating clean energy soon.

"We don't require that massive dam construction, we're just using the natural flow of the stream," said Mark Stover, a vice president at Hydro Green Energy, the Houston-based company leading the project. "It's underwater windpower if you will, but we have 840 or 850 times the energy density of wind."

Hydrokinetic turbines like those produced by Hydro Green and Verdant capture the mechanical energy of the water's flow and turn it into energy, without need for a dam. The problem for companies like Hydro Green is that their relatively low-impact turbines are forced into the same regulatory bucket as huge hydroelectric dams. The regulatory hurdles have made it difficult to actually get water flowing through projects.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has oversight of all projects that involve making power from water, and the agency has recently shown signs of easing up on this new industry. In the meantime, the first places where hydrokinetic power makes in impact could be at existing dam sites where the regulatory red tape has already been cut.

“I am thrilled to support today's historic order that allows for harnessing more power from the Mississippi River,” FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller said in a release. “I hope this is the first of thousands of similar projects that produce clean and renewable power from in-stream flows at existing dams.”

Moeller's enthusiasm could encourage other companies that are trying similar strategies to tap tidal or current power.

Verdant has been testing its own turbine design to capture tidal flow in New York's East River, but it hasn't been easy.

"Verdant has spent more money on permitting their East River project that than they did on hardware," said Roger Bedard, a researcher at the Electric Power Research Institute, who has studied water-current–based energy generation.

Hydro Green's Stover hopes that his company's new unit will help shorten that regulatory process by generating environmental impact data that could ease concerns the turbines will disrupt river ecosystems and habitats.

And in the meantime, investors will continue to scour the planet for companies and technologies that could benefit from Barack Obama's plans to create green jobs. Congress already passed a bill this year to extend tax incentives for hydrokinetic projects through 2016.

"After the wind and solar craze, people said, 'What else is out there?'" Stover said. "The investment community is quite interested."

Image: Mark Stover/Hydro Green Energy, LLC

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Giant woodlice arrive in Britain for first time

By Sarah Knapton

Giant sea woodlouse at Weymouth Sealife Centre
Giant sea woodlouse at Weymouth Sealife Centre Photo: BNPS

The one foot long Giant Isopods live up to 6,000ft down on the seabed where there is no light.

In the pitch black and cold they survive by feasting on dead and decaying fish and other marine animals.

Isopods have been unchanged for 160 million years and the creatures are sure to be popular attractions when they go on display.

Experts at the UK's Sea Life Centre parks organised for nine of them to be transported from the US where they had been caught in lobster nets in the Atlantic.

Each was individually wrapped in wet hessian and newspaper before being packed into a box of ice.

They were then flown thousands of miles to London before being transported by truck to the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, Dorset.

The nine Isopods - Bathynonomous giganteus in Latin - will spend time in quarantine before going on display in large dark tanks in Blackpool.

Special reflective glass will give the giant creepy crawlies the feeling they are deep at the bottom of the sea, while still allowing spectators to peer in.

Chris Brown, a marine biologist who is looking after the Isopods in Weymouth, said they have adjusted well to their new environment.

He said: "Isopods live on the seabed at great depths.

"There are lots of them down at the bottom of the sea but because of the depths they live at, they rarely turn up in fishing nets or lobster pots.

"They are scavengers which feed on the carcasses of dead fish and other creatures. They are doing a very good clean-up job.

"When we flew our nine to the UK, we wrapped each one individually in wet hessian. We then covered them in wet newspaper and then encased them in ice for the journey.

"They live in the dark in temperatures as low as (39F) 4C - we are very excited.

"At the moment they are being kept in a large quarantine tank in a shaded and dark corner at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth.

"The tank has special coolers that keeps the water at a chilly 4C. After quarantine they will be taken to the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool.

"The tank there has been fitted with reflective glass that keeps it dark inside but allows people to look in.

"It, too, is fitted with special coolers to keep the temperature at 4C (39F)."

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Schwarzenegger to Push ‘Green’ Policy Despite Economic Woes

Posted by Samuel R. Avro

The former action-hero in an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes discussed ‘green’ policy, emission limits, climate change, and renewable energy. He also was unafraid to criticize the Bush administration for their lack of ‘interest’ in cutting tailpipe emissions.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes tonight, vowed to push on with his tough environmental laws despite last month’s announcement that his state faced a whopping $40 billion deficit.

“The more difficult it gets, the more joy I find in it. Because it’s just great to figure out all of the ways of bringing people together and shaping policy. But to get it done, to get there is always a long process. But when you get it done, it’s very satisfying,” Gov. Schwarzenegger told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

The governor was unafraid to criticize the Bush administration for what he termed their lack of 'interest' in cutting tailpipe emissions.

When put on the spot and asked if the current economic crisis currently makes it a bad time to change America’s energy habits, Schwarzenegger quickly dismissed that notion.

“I think that there’s never the wrong time. There’s always the right time. I will argue the opposite. Because we have seen that the industries that are performing well in California, even right now in this economic decline, is green technology. It’s really spectacular to see those manufacturers coming up to me and saying, ‘Our business is booming,’ while there’s an economic decline. So, green technology’s where it’s at,” the governor retorted.

The former actor also addressed his concern that the American automakers were not doing enough to assist in the energy changeover.

“I have been in Detroit in 2000 and have talked to the car manufacturers then to put hydrogen engines in the cars and start experimenting. And they said to me then, ‘Well, this would take five to ten years to do something like that.’ Well, that time has come now. Where are the cars?” Schwarzenegger questioned.

When Pelley noted the hatred that the city of Detroit had for him after he came out with his ultra-strict emission laws, even going as far as displaying a billboard which read ‘Arnold to Detroit: drop dead’, the governor pretty much joked it off.

That was the best free publicity I could get. But actually I was not saying, ‘Arnold to Detroit: drop dead,’ I was just saying, ‘Get off your butt,’” Schwarzenegger said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also spoke about the Hummer he owns, which he spent $100,000 to convert from a military vehicle to a legal civilian one. In fact, he is the inventor of the civilian Hummer, the infamous gas-guzzler, when he invested the astounding sum after being told by the military manufacturer that it couldn’t be done.

His Hummer has been modified and can now run on bio-fuel.

“You can literally go up to a restaurant and get cooking oil,” he said. “it runs, basically, on anything. Anything natural.”

He also knocked environmentalists who tried to hold up a proposed solar project in the Mojave desert for what they said can endanger some animals.

“The environmentalists are the first ones to say, ‘Yes, we need renewable energy. We should get rid of, you know, using our energy from coal and from natural gas,’ and all those kind of things. But then when you say, ‘Okay, let’s do renewable, let’s go that,’ ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up, not so fast,’” reasoned Schwarzenegger.

He also said that when trying to cut tailpipe emissions, he was thwarted by an uninterested Bush administration.

“I could tell in his eyes (President Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson) that he did not believe in it, that we would never get it, that he will create every obstacle. And the administration just had no interest in it.”

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GE Unveils the World’s First OLED Christmas Tree

by Evelyn Lee

OLED Christmas Tree, GE Lighting, GE Research, OLED Lighting, sustainable lighting, green design, clean technology, energy efficient lighting

Recently the OLED research team over at General Electric unveiled the world’s first OLED Christmas Tree! Forging ahead of the usual end-of-the-year slowdown, GE’s Global Research Center headquarters in Niskayuna, NY rang in the holidays with a 6-inch-by-15-ft. OLED system all rolled-up into the form of a tree. The radiant source of holiday cheer provides a glimpse of how OLEDs can transform the future of the lighting industry.

“We haven’t quite achieved Rockefeller or National Christmas tree lighting status yet, but we’re well on our way,” said Anil Duggal, who leads GE’s OLED program. “We hope GE’s OLED tree lighting will inspire and capture people’s imagination during the holidays on the limitless possibilities of this next generation lighting concept.”

The tree was a follow-up to the breakthrough GE scientists achieved earlier this year with their roll-to-roll manufacturing process for OLED lighting devices. Similar to a newspaper printing process, the roll-to-roll manufacturing will play a key factor in making OLED lighting commercially available to the general public.

“Customers will recognize that while this demonstration was more for holiday spirit and team camaraderie, it does reinforce how far OLED technology has come and how it is poised to revolutionize lighting and interior design,” says John Strainic, global product general manager with GE Consumer & Industry, which will commercialize OLEDs for businesses and consumers in the coming years.

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Mapping Renewable Energy, Rooftop by Rooftop

By Bryan Walsh

A solar technician employed by SunEdison checks the rooftop array of solar panels above the 514,000 square foot Walgreens distribution center in Woodland, Californi
A solar technician employed by SunEdison checks the rooftop array of solar panels in Woodland, California.

The sun shines on everyone — but not in equal measure. That reality has long slowed the spread of solar power. Depending on where you live in the country — or even where you live in your city — the same array of photovoltaic solar panels can produce enough electricity to power your house with watts to spare, or barely cut a nickel from your utility bill. It all comes down to the precise amount of sunlight that hits your roof. But while we all know that San Antonio gets more sunny days than Seattle, what about one part of San Antonio compared to another? One block of downtown Seattle compared to the next block? "Without that knowledge, renewables can be a bit of a crap shoot,' says Kenneth Westrick, the CEO of the renewable mapping company 3Tier. (See TIME's Top Ten Green Ideas of 2008)

All of that could be changing. The engineering company CH2M Hill is now joining hands with the U.S. Department of Energy to provide Internet solar maps of 25 American cities, using Google Earth technology to chart the precise solar potential of neighborhoods, literally rooftop by rooftop. The company has just finished mapping all of San Francisco, allowing residents to enter their address and take the solar measure of their own home. "People in San Francisco think we don't have any solar potential,' says Gavin Newsom, the city's deep-green mayor. "But the map shows we have a lot more sun than you'd believe."

Hear TIME's Interview With
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:


Newsom knows the challenges of going solar in a first-hand way. The mayor is in a well-publicized fight over his right to install solar panels, doing battle with his own housing community, which is against solar power on aesthetic grounds. Most San Francisco residents have things easier, and that's thanks to Newsom and CH2M. Click on the San Francisco solar map website — sf.solarmap.org — and you'll get a Google Earth-eye view of the entire city, from the Sunset District to North Beach. CH2M Hill has already labeled all 925 existing solar systems throughout the city, including commercial sites, government sites and the handful of residential sites, which is nice if you're keeping track of these things. But the really cool part comes when you enter in an address — any address in San Francisco — into the website. The camera shifts to a rooftop view of the business or home, with data on the size of the roof, its estimated solar energy potential, the estimated electricity that could be produced and the utility bill savings, as well as the amount of carbon that can be avoided by shifting to solar. You can also get estimates of what it would cost you to convert — with the federal, state and city incentives factored in — and you get linked directly to a number of Bay Area-solar installers.

"It's a one stop shop for solar power,' says Johanna Partin, San Francisco's renewable energy program manger. If you can't get solar power with the help of the CH2M Hill map, you're just not trying very hard.

CH2M Hill is not the only company conducting such solar surveys, and others are even going global. Seattle-based 3Tier is steadily mapping the solar, wind and hydro power potential of the entire planet, with its REmapping the World initiative. Utilities and businesses can use the 3Tier website to prospect for the best locations for wind power projects, while ordinary citizens can check the rough solar potential of their home address. What kind of dividends this will pay in an energy hungry, globally warming world is hard to say, but if San Francisco is any indication, they could be big ones.

The city already has about 6.5mW of solar power hardware installed in the city, most of it from a relatively small number of big commercial and municipal projects. Newsom is aiming for 31mW of solar by 2012, part of a bigger plan to provide 50mW of total renewable energy by the same year. Newsom's office is also identifying the 1,500 business that have the biggest solar potential in San Francisco — saving them equally big money — and is offering a special incentive to solar contractors who employ graduates of San Francisco's workforce training program, part of the mayor's push for green jobs. "Everyone's talking about green jobs, but to say is not to do,' he says. "We want to actually do this.'

The shift to renewable energy won't happen on its own — it needs smart government policies and smart technological innovations. Solar mapping is a good example of both.

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Nasa ducks dive under Greenland ice

By Jonathan Amos


Nasa rubber duck (A.Behar/Nasa)
The rubber ducks have Dr Behar's email address on them

The US space agency (Nasa) would like its rubber ducks back, please.

Ninety bathtub toys were hurled into a drainage hole on the Greenland ice in September - an experiment to see how melt waters find their way to the base of the ice sheet.

It was hoped the ducks would flow along subglacial channels and eventually pop out into the sea. They may still, but nothing has been seen of them so far.

"We haven't heard anything from them yet," said Nasa's Alberto Behar. "If somebody does find one, it will be a great breakthrough for us."

Dr Behar is a robotics expert with the agency at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He has been studying the tubular crevasses that appear on the surface of the Greenland ice known as moulins.

These "plug holes" can drain vast lakes of melt water that settle on the top of the ice during summer months. Scientists would like to know how and to what extent this water can help lubricate the base of the ice sheet, moving it faster towards the ocean.

Moulin (A.Behar/Nasa)
Huge quantities of melt water can go down the tubes

If plastic fowl seem a very low-tech way for a man who has also worked on Mars rovers to investigate the problem, it should be stressed he also has a more sophisticated approach.

Dr Behar has been developing a Moulin Explorer, a probe that can travel through the chutes. He has been describing his work here at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting 2008.

Dr Behar started out with a simple ice borehole camera on the end of a tether and then gradually built up the instrumentation and improved the packaging so that the probe moved more easily with the waters.

"We've found the moulins are complex; they're not just a shaft that goes all the way down to the bottom and creates a pipe out in a certain direction," he told BBC News.

"There are stair-steps and there are breaks in the ice where it seems the water goes in many directions and then comes back together."

Moulin Explorer (A.Behar/Nasa)
An untethered Moulin Explorer probe was released with the rubber ducks

This past summer season, he finally released an untethered Explorer into a moulin alongside the great Jakobshavn outlet glacier in West Greenland - together with those ducks.

The PVC cylinder - about the size of an American football - contained an accelerometer, a pressure transducer, GPS with satellite modem link, and an antenna; all powered by high-capacity lithium thionyl chloride batteries.

Like the ducks, the Explorer was supposed to pop out somewhere having gone through the subglacial plumbing. It was also supposed to call home.

"We did not hear a signal back so it probably got stuck under the ice somewhere," said Dr Behar. "It was a bit of a long shot but we thought it was worth a try. We've got to go back and scratch our heads and think about what we do next."

Even seeing a few ducks emerge from their subglacial adventure would give some clues as to what is happening down below.

These are early days. In the distant future, the descendents of the Moulin Explorer could be deployed by Nasa on icy moons in the outer Solar System that are thought to harbour subglacial oceans.

Computer rendering of Jakobshavn Glacier from satellite imagery (Nasa)
Jakobshavn and other outlet glaciers are a major focus of research

There seems little doubt that draining melt waters can lubricate the ice-rock interface at the bed of the Greenland sheet; surges in the ice have been recorded when large surface lakes have suddenly emptied through moulins.

But scientists are more circumspect about the waters' contribution to the acceleration noted in some of Greenland's outlet glaciers which - like Jakobshavn - have doubled their speed in recent years.

These outlet glaciers are the major route through which Greenland dumps its ice into the ocean. If there is to be concern about the Greenland ice sheet's contribution to future sea level rise in a warmer world, it is the behaviour of these glaciers which needs to be monitored most closely.

And recent research has given interesting perspectives on this issue.

Jakobshavn Glacier (BBC)

Earlier this year, Ian Joughin from the University of Washington and colleagues analysed satellite observations and GPS data on ice motion from across a wide swathe of Greenland.

They found that summer surface melting was not producing large instabilities in the glaciers.

"In percentage terms, the speed-up of the ice sheet is somewhat large - 50 to 100% in summer months - but that part of the ice sheet isn't moving that much ice into the ocean. The area that's moving the ice into the ocean a lot is the big outlet glaciers and they're not being affected much by the melt lubrication."

In the case of Jakobshavn, Dr Joughin takes the view that the more significant influence is the presence of sea ice in front of the glacier. This has been largely absent in recent years, allowing the great mass behind to move much faster into the ocean, he says.

"The speed of the glacier is modulated by calving and sea ice seems to shut down calving," explained Dr Joughin.

The release of the Moulin Explorer (A.Behar/Nasa)
The Moulin Explorer is unleashed

David Holland, from New York University, and colleagues are also presenting here in San Francisco.

They implicate the deep warm waters that now inhabit the fjords dominated by these big glaciers.

Dr Holland's team has been using a long data-set of thermometer readings gathered by fisheries researchers studying sea-bed conditions in the Jakobshavn region.

They have able to show how changes in atmospheric circulation in the North Atlantic could have driven deep warm waters around the southern coast of Greenland from as far away as Iceland.

"In the case of Greenland, the water around the coast at depth, from 200m to 600m - it was relatively cold until 1997 and then within six months the whole thing lit up on the west coast and became warm - almost dramatically so - and filled these deep fjords. It put things out of balance," Dr Holland told BBC News.

"I don't think we should be focusing on these moulins which have very little influence. The ocean is a massive heat source and these moulins are just not as important."

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