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The Washington Post / Friday, March 7, 2008; Page A01
NASA Wary of Relying on Russia
Moscow Soon to Be Lone Carrier of Astronauts to Space Station
- By Marc Kaufman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Международная космическая станция будет полностью собрана через 2,5 года. К этому времени у США не останется собственных космических кораблей, способных доставлять астронавтов и грузы на МКС - имеющиеся челноки будут списаны (после крушения шаттла "Колумбия" в 2003 году они признаны ненадежными), и по меньшей мере до 2015 года заменить их будет нечем.
В течение как минимум пяти лет Россия будет единственной страной, способной отправлять на станцию людей, и делать это будет, разумеется, на своих условиях. Подобная перспектива сильно беспокоит НАСА - это сильный удар по престижу США, да и американо-российские отношения в последнее время оставляют желать лучшего.
Tomorrow night, a European spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from French Guiana on its maiden voyage to the international space station, giving NASA and the world a new way to reach the orbiting laboratory.
For NASA, however, the launch of the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) also highlights a stark reality: In 2 1/2 years, just as the station gets fully assembled, the United States will no longer have any spacecraft of its own capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the station, in which roughly $100 billion is being invested. The three space shuttles will be retired by then, because of their high cost and questionable safety, and NASA will have nothing ready to replace them until 2015 at the earliest.
For five years or more, the United States will be dependent on the technology of others to reach the station, which American taxpayers largely paid for. To complicate things further, the only nation now capable of flying humans to the station is Russia, giving it a strong bargaining position to decide what it wants to charge for the flights at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are becoming increasingly testy.
In addition, some fear the price will be paid not only in billions of dollars but also in lost American prestige and lost leverage on the Russians when it comes to issues such as aiding Iran with its nuclear program.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin calls the situation his "greatest regret and greatest concern." For most of the five-year gap, he said, "we will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is terrible place for the United States to be. I'm worried, and many others are worried."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, went further. "This is a very serious betrayal of American interests," he said. "This will be the first time since Sputnik when the United States will not have a significant space superiority. I remain dumbfounded that we've allowed this serious threat to our national security to develop."
The White House, Congress and the space community have known for years that the gap was looming, but there were always other priorities.
Those most involved with the issue say that its seriousness will become more glaring this summer, when negotiations with Russia begin and Congress is likely to debate whether to grant a waiver to the law that prohibits certain kinds of commerce with nations that support the Iranian or North Korean nuclear program.
Griffin has testified that while the waiver is essential, it is "unseemly, simply unseemly, for the United States - the world's leading power and leading space power - to be reduced to purchasing services like this. It affects, in my view, how we are seen in the world, and not for the better."
NASA's budget calls for spending $2.6 billion for transportation to the space station between fiscal 2009 and 2013. As it stands now, much of that would go to the Russians.
With that prospect ahead, Griffin told Nelson's committee last week that he is working with the fledgling private rocket company SpaceX to speed its efforts to build a private spacecraft that can take over some of the work of ferrying astronauts into space. Both Nelson and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had recommended that NASA formally push ahead with that effort.
But SpaceX, while eager to do the work, has not successfully orbited even a cargo spacecraft, let alone one designed to the much higher standards needed for human flight. Nonetheless, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a telephone interview that his company might have a manned spacecraft capability by the end of 2011 if NASA exercises its option under a 2006 agreement to provide cargo service. With that go-ahead, SpaceX would put its manned rocket program into high gear, he said.
"Is there a risk that we won't succeed? Yes, there is," said Musk, co-founder of the PayPal online payment system. "But if the United States doesn't provide any competition to the Russians, then they have a monopoly on crew transport to the station and they can dictate their terms. Do taxpayers really want all that money to go to Russia, rather than to an American company with American workers?"
In his testimony, Griffin said he is inclined to exercise the human spaceflight option, but he also said he very much doubts that SpaceX will have a spacecraft ready for astronauts by 2012.
The gap in American capability to reach the space station is the result of factors including the 2003 breakup of the space shuttle Columbia, the subsequent decision to retire the three remaining shuttles by September 2010 and the lack of additional funds to quickly build a replacement.
NASA has let contracts to design and test a new-generation rocket and crew capsule, but it has had to go slowly because of the high cost of operating the shuttles, which are the only spacecraft able to carry large components to the still-incomplete space station. Griffin has testified that the replacement spacecraft could be ready in 2013 rather than 2015 if the agency had an additional $2 billion, but the administration has not asked for the funding.
Last year, the White House opposed a bill passed by the Senate to give NASA an additional $1 billion to make up for some of the costs incurred after Columbia broke apart - a step similar to one taken after the Challenger disaster in 1986.
"What we have here is an agency that has been given a lot to do but has been starved for funds," Nelson said. "I think the gap is largely due to the administration's refusal to give NASA the funds it needs. And now we'll be forced to give billions to the Russians because we didn't spend millions before. It's the worst of all worlds."
Griffin, a strong advocate for manned spaceflight and a loyal member of the administration, said that past Congresses and administrations let the manned space program atrophy and that it took President Bush's 2004 "vision" for human travel to the moon and Mars to rejuvenate the program.
Still, many see Bush as having limited interest in space. Not only have NASA budgets remained tight, but Bush never visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston during his six years as governor of Texas, and as president he visited once, for a memorial service for the lost Columbia astronauts.
The European spacecraft scheduled for launch tomorrow night is the first of six cargo-carrying flights by Arianespace, a public-private company, in exchange for NASA ferrying a large European lab to the station on the shuttle. Chairman and chief executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said in an interview last week that the company would like to play a larger role in supplying the space station, but it is waiting for its first successful launch before pressing its case.
The European Union is scheduled to decide in November whether to enter the field of human spaceflight, potentially joining the club that so far includes only the United States, Russia and China.
Le Gall acknowledged that the ATV - which is the size of a London double-decker bus - is now more expensive to build and operate than its Russian competitors, but he said that may change if Russia becomes the sole carrier. Nonetheless, the Europeans face a number of obstacles in selling their space transport services to NASA, including buy-American provisions that favor homegrown companies such as SpaceX.
"We believe we can be an important part of the solution for the space station and counterbalance to the Russians, if we are given a chance," Le Gall said.
Despite the broad concern over NASA's future dependence on Russia, Griffin said the agency's experience with its most important space station partner has been good. The Russians helped astronauts stranded on the space station after the Columbia breakup, and they have continued to provide crew and cargo transport services - currently as part of a $780 million, multiyear contract.
Griffin also said a new deal with the Russians has to be signed by early next year. The Russians, he said, need a three-year lead time to build a sufficient quantity of their expendable, but very dependable, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.
© Copyright 1996-2008 The Washington Post Company.
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The Guardian / Monday March 10 2008
Climate change may spark conflict with Russia, EU told
Alert over scramble for control of energy resources in the Arctic
Глобальное потепление может привести к конфликтам России и Запада из-за огромных природных ресурсов Арктики. В результате таяния льдов доступ к ним облегчится, появятся также новые водные пути и международные торговые маршруты, что изменит геостратегическую динамику в регионе. Эти опасения были высказаны в докладе, представленном на саммите ЕС в Брюсселе Хавьером Соланой, комиссаром ЕС по внешней политике, и Бенитой Ферреро-Вальднер, комиссаром по внешним связям.
European governments have been told to plan for an era of conflict over energy resources, with global warming likely to trigger a dangerous contest between Russia and the west for the vast mineral riches of the Arctic.
A report from the EU's top two foreign policy officials to the 27 heads of government gathering in Brussels for a summit this week warns that "significant potential conflicts" are likely in the decades ahead as a result of "intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources".
The seven-page report, obtained by the Guardian, has been written by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy supremo, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations. It predicts that global warming will precipitate security issues for Europe, ranging from energy wars to mass migration, failed states and political radicalisation.
The report warns of greater rich-poor and north-south tension because global warming is disproportionately caused by the wealthy north and west while its impact will be most catastrophic in the poor south.
The officials single out the impact of the thawing Arctic and its emergence as a potential flashpoint of rival claims, pointing to the Kremlin's grab for the Arctic last year when President Vladimir Putin hailed as heroes a team of scientists who planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed.
Developments in the Arctic had "potential consequences for international stability and European security interests".
"The rapid melting of the polar ice caps, in particular the Arctic, is opening up new waterways and international trade routes," the report notes. "The increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region is changing the geostrategic dynamics of the region."
The report also stresses the volatility of the regions that hold large mineral deposits and predicts greater destabilisation in central Asia and the Middle East as a result of global warming. The report comes as the issue of energy security begins to loom large on the agenda of western policymakers. A summit of Nato leaders in Bucharest next month will discuss the problem for the first time, while a new manifesto for a radical overhaul of the western alliance moots the possibility of Nato being used "as an instrument of energy security".
"There will be a discussion of these new security risks, including energy," said a senior Nato diplomat. "We will try to find areas where Nato can add value."
The 150-page manifesto for a new Nato, penned by five former chiefs of staff and senior Nato commanders from the US, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, also points to the likely friction in the Arctic as a result of climate change.
The Arctic thaw has already created "minor tensions" between Russia and Nato member Norway over fishing rights around the Spitsbergen archipelago. "The islands of Spitsbergen ... have large deposits of gas and oil that are currently locked under a frozen continental shelf," the document states.
"If global warming were to allow this to become a viable source of energy, a serious conflict could emerge between Russia and Norway."
This "potential crisis" would draw in the US, Canada and Denmark "competing for large and viable energy resources and precious raw materials".
With specific reference to Arctic exploration, the EU's report says: "The scramble for resources will intensify."
But the retired generals complain that the EU is not tackling the issue of "protection of energy resources and their means of transportation. The EU is using soft instruments and this is unlikely to protect energy security".
The Solana report is the first high-level attempt to get the issue on the summit agenda. According to a draft outcome for this week's EU summit, the 27 prime ministers and presidents will order "appropriate follow-up action" by the end of the year. Solana and Ferrero-Waldner call on the EU to draw up an Arctic policy "based on the evolving geostrategy of the ... region, taking into account access to resources and the opening of new trade routes".
Next month's Nato summit discussion of the alliance's role in energy security is fuelling speculation that western troops could by deployed as "pipeline police" in places such as the Caucasus. This was dismissed by the Nato diplomat. "Energy security and the security of installations and transportation routes are a national responsibility, not an alliance responsibility," he said. "We should be looking to offer advice and help, rather than putting boots on the ground."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008.
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EurekAlert! / 5-Mar-2008
New Method to Estimate Sea Ice Thickness
Специалисты Российской академии наук и Геологической службы США разработали новую модель определения толщины морского льда. Основана эта модель исключительно на исторических наблюдениях.
Scientists recently developed a new modeling approach to estimate sea ice thickness. This is the only model based entirely on historical observations.
The model was developed by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.
Using this new technique, the thickness of Arctic sea ice was estimated from 1982 to 2003. Results showed that average ice thickness and total ice volume fluctuated together during the early study period, peaking in the late 1980s and then declining until the mid-1990s. Thereafter, ice thickness slightly increased but the total volume of sea ice did not increase.
Scientists propose that the volume stayed constant during the study's latter years because while the ice was thickening in the high latitudes of the Arctic, the surrounding sea ice was melting. Sea ice, however, can only become so thick, and if Arctic sea ice continues to melt, the total volume of sea ice in the Arctic will decrease.
The most dramatic losses in sea ice cover have occurred since 2003, and as scientists acquire newer data, they will apply the new model to study recent years of ice thickness and volume change.
This modeling approach uses sea ice motion data to follow parcels of ice backward in time at monthly intervals for up to 3 years while accumulating a history of the solar radiation and air temperature to which the ice was exposed. The model was constructed by fitting these data with an ice parcel's known thickness to determine how the thickness of sea ice changes in response to different environmental conditions. Data on the known thickness are obtained from measurements by submarine cruises and surface coring missions.
"Sea ice is affected by the accumulation of environmental factors to which it has been exposed," said USGS Director Mark Myers.
"Understanding the natural variability of sea ice thickness is critical for improving global climate models. Sea ice regulates energy exchange and plays an important role in the Earth's climate system."
This model, built on historical observations, complements thermodynamic models that simulate ice thickness. Science benefits from having different models. Comparing different model outputs can help improve predictive capabilities. Many scientists worldwide are using satellite and ground observations of the Arctic's atmosphere, ice and ocean to gain a better understanding of how changes at the top of the world affect ecosystems both locally and globally.
- The report "Fluctuating Arctic sea ice thickness changes estimated by an in-situ learned and empirically forced neural network model" was recently published in the Journal of Climate and can be found at the American Meteorological Society's journal site at http://ams.allenpress.com
- For additional information on this research, visit the USGS Remote Sensing and Sea Ice Research site at http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/remote_sensing/sea_ice.html.
Copyright © 2005 by AAAS, the science society.
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Newsdesk (pressmeddelande), Sweden / 2008-03-11
St. Petersburg to host IX International Baltic Sea Day
12-13 марта 2008 года в Санкт-Петербурге прошел IX Международный экологический форум "День Балтийского моря". Форум является крупным экологическим мероприятием и ежегодно собирает около 500 участников из всех стран ХЕЛКОМ и других европейских стран. ХЕЛКОМ - Хельсинкская комиссия - руководящий орган Хельсинкской конвенции, принятой в целях защиты морской среды района Балтийского моря, первого международного соглашения по всем источникам загрязнения, как наземным, так и морским и воздушным.
Helsinki, 10 March (HELCOM Information Service) - Up to 500 participants from the Baltic Sea countries, including government officials, scientists and business leaders, as well as representatives of major regional organizations and NGO's are expected to take part in the IX International Environmental Forum "The Baltic Sea Day", which will be held on 12-13 March in St. Petersburg.
Established to support and promote the work of HELCOM, the Baltic Sea Day is considered as an important regional forum to stimulate public awareness of the state of the Baltic marine environment, to enhance political attention to existing problems, and to boost support towards actions needed to protect the sea.
One of the major themes of this year's Forum will be the implementation of an ambitious HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan to restore the good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment by 2021, which was adopted last year at a HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in Krakow, Poland.
"We wish for a productive and successful outcome of this Conference which has become a tradition in our HELCOM family," said Anne Christine Brusendorff, HELCOM's Executive Secretary. "We are confident that our discussions on issues such as agricultural activities, assessment of the state of the Baltic Sea, stakeholder involvement, and financing will be a substantial contribution to the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan and one of the first steps towards its implementation. Recognizing that it is not possible to do everything at once, we will be very attentive to suggestions on building a list of prioritised actions, based on the principle of cost-effectiveness."
"The Conference is also a very important opportunity to interact with our Russian colleagues and discuss issues of joint interest, as on 1 July 2008 Russia will assume the chairmanship of HELCOM for a two-year term," said Brusendorff. "This is a crucial period for HELCOM, coinciding with the beginning of what will be a long and challenging road of the Baltic Sea Action Plan implementation."
The programme of the Baltic Sea Day includes plenary and sectional sessions (round tables) on a wide range of topics. Participants will look into such issues as the stakeholder involvement in the implementation of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan, financing of environmental projects, sustainable agriculture in the Baltic Sea region, assessment of the state of the Baltic marine environment, trilateral co-operation in the Gulf of Finland, tourism and the environment, as well as maritime transportation.
Keynote speakers at the official opening and plenary session will include senior officials of the Government of St. Petersburg, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, HELCOM's Chairman, Ministers of the Environment from several Baltic Sea countries, as well as representatives of the Nordic Council, the Nordic Investment Bank, the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, and the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation.
The Baltic Sea Day, which has been observed annually in St. Petersburg since 2000, was established on the basis of a decision made by HELCOM. It is held on the anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Convention for the protection of the Baltic marine environment, and is organised by the St. Petersburg NGO Ecology and Business with active support from the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, and the local governments of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, as well as the governments and financial institutions of the Baltic Sea countries.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, more commonly as the Helsinki Commission or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of all the nine Baltic Sea countries and the European Community working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," also known as the Helsinki Convention.
© 2008 Newsdesk AB.
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