“As more than 30 heads of space agencies from around the world prepare to gather in Washington January 9-10 for an unprecedented summit on the future of space exploration, we are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024. We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade.”
For the full article titled “Obama Administration Extends International Space Station until at Least 2024“, please click on the link or go to the White House Science & Technology page.
You can also read NASA Administrator Bolden’s speech given at the International Space Exploration Forum here.
Want to know more about the frigid blast of air that’s been sweeping the country this week? Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has got answers for you. He also discusses how the likelihood of a pattern of these types of events is increased through climate change.
The Department of State will host the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) on Thursday, January 9 in Washington, DC.
From asteroids to Mars, nations are working together to better understand solar system destinations beyond our planet – and what it will take to get us there. Check out the opening session of the International Space Exploration Forum, with remarks by Ambassador Judith Garber, Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, to hear what’s in store for the future of international space exploration, live at 8:30 a.m. EST on January 9 at NASA Public online.
Over the weekend my family and I visited the London science museum, which is enormous, and we only scratched the surface in one visit. I think that two of the most interesting things were the Large Hadron Collider and the exhibit on climate change, although we will explore more next time.
The Large Hadron Collider exhibit is about the particle collider dug in a 27 km tunnel on the French-Swiss border buried 100 meters below the surface. The LHC beams particles around the circle using powerful magnets at terrific speeds to collide into each other and test new particles formed (some very briefly) after the collision. In 2012 the LHC confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle, the missing piece in the standard particle model.
The climate change exhibit was more hands on, as you learned lots of basics about climate change (see picture above), and you also got to role play. They had one machine where you had to maintain the UK’s electricity supply and cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.
Your intrepid ESTH Counselor tried several times to keep the lights on and cut enough carbon emissions, by energy conservation, closing coal and gas plants, building nuclear, solar and wind plants, building up carbon capture and storage, but I failed. I did keep the lights on, but did not meet the carbon emissions reduction target. A fun little machine, but it clearly shows how challenging it will be meet both targets. Next time I will have to lasso some UK colleagues to show me how to break the code.
One of the exciting things to come out of the COP19 last month was the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL). The US has partnered with the UK, Norway and the World Bank to slow down deforestation through sustainable farming and landscape management.
Secretary Kerry said in a video message that this is a “critical new tool to help us meet our responsibilities to future generations. It will help countries make progress on sustainable land use practices. The United States stands with willing partners in the fight against global climate change and I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure a more secure future, not only forested countries but for the entire planet that we share.”
At a cost of $280 (£173) million, ISFL will “help countries identify and promote climate-smart agricultural and low-carbon land-use practices in selected geographical areas where agriculture is a major cause of deforestation.” For more information check out the World Bank’s program flyer.
Last week I spoke at Christmas reception of the British Photovoltaic Association, presided over by Lord Palmer. It was a really fun event, in the House of Lords (where I never expected to go), and I met a number of people working to build up the UK solar industry. Since the UK is not renowned for its sunshine, when people think of UK renewable energy, most people think about wind, not solar.
Not true. The UK solar industry will soon reach 3 Gigawatts of capacity, a great achievement. The US solar industry is also breaking out, with the benefit of state and federal renewable targets, tax breaks, loans for solar panel purchases and rapidly declining costs, and now we are up to 10 Gigawatts of capacity.
We also got to hear Minister Greg Barker break the news that the UK energy bill has been passed by Parliament. In my talk, I emphasized how solar fits in with our strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As I noted, my big boss Secretary John Kerry, has made this point strongly when he welcomed the IPCC report on climate change: “The United States is deeply committed to leading on climate change. We will work with our partners around the world through ambitious actions to reduce emissions, transform our energy economy, and help the most vulnerable cope with the effects of climate change. We do so because this is science, these are facts, and action is our only option.” Sounds like I better get to work!
NASA has had a very exciting couple of weeks.
First and foremost, the Mars rover Curiosity, whose dramatic landing last year was followed by an enthusiastic crowd, has discovered a series of organic chemicals on the Martian surface that could lead to further proof that the planet once supported life or was at least capable of supporting life. They’ve also been able to use potassium-dating methods, similar to carbon-dating in an environment lacking much carbon, to determine the ages of rocks and clay.
Speaking of long-distance travel, on Tuesday NASA launched a Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in an attempt to return to its mission of getting astronauts onto the International Space Station from U.S. soil. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “Our American industry partners have already proven they can safely and reliably launch supplies to the space station, and now we’re working with them to get our crews there as well.”
Remaining in Earth orbit, NASA is helping support the future of science by launching four student-built CubeSat research satellites aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket!
Recently I went to Edinburgh to learn more about Scotland’s vast potential for renewable energy, encompassing on-shore and off-shore wind, biomass, hydro-power and wave and tidal technologies. As I soon learned, Scotland plans to maintain its position as a major energy producer. One point that really struck me was their world-class leadership in developing new wave and tidal technologies.
Wave and tidal power could be a real breakthrough, if you get the technology right and the price down. Since wave and tidal energy is more constant, or at least more predictable, than solar or wind power, it could be a significant part of the puzzle of meeting energy needs.
Since it is below the water, wave and tidal power should not face the same aesthetic concerns as wind farms, for example. Of course, you do need to look at the impact on marine animals, including migratory animals, but that is being done.
I met with Dr. Henry Jeffrey of the University of Edinburgh, and he described the Flow Wave TT tank (pictured), which allows researchers to test designs and materials in realistic conditions, since they simulate both ocean waves and tidal currents, to see what performs best.
The University of Edinburgh works closely with many universities, both in the UK and the US, and with Sandia National Laboratories. Although many describe wave and tidal power as far off in the future, there are already one-megawatt pilot units, which would have been unthinkable just five years ago. Now, if they can just adapt these wave machines for surfing, we will really be getting somewhere.
As you may have noticed from our Embassy twitter site, we have officially broken ground on our new Embassy building. The attached pictures show our Ambassador at the groundbreaking (along with Rodney Evans, OBO Project Director, New London Embassy; Lydia Muniz, OBO Director, Department of State; and Ravi Govindia, Leader, Wandsworth Council), where he helped heave some dirt, and the architect’s rendering of the new Embassy. We will be sad to leave our current home bordering Grosvenor Square and the nice park there, but it is exciting that we will move into a new Embassy building.
The new Embassy building is very green, designed to be something like an environmental diplomat. We are seeking to be carbon neutral and produce renewable energy in the building, and have sought building certifications from industry standards like Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) BREEAM.
But it is the little details that I find the most interesting. For example, if you look at each side of the building, you see these curious diamond shapes. These include photovoltaic cells to capture solar energy when the sun happens to pop out in London, but they also reflect a uniform distribution of light into the building. Moreover, the shape of the envelope makes the building visible to birds, so that they don’t fly into it, and it reduces downdrafts to the park below.
Another interesting aspect is the pond around the Embassy (don’t call it a moat!). All of the storm water is collected from the site and flows into the pond. The water from the pond then drips back into the landscape to irrigate the park, so you don’t need as much water to keep up the grass and flowers. The planting terraces are designed for bio-filtration to remove pollutants, and finally, waterfalls help cool the pond.
Construction is just starting, and we plan to let you know when some cool stuff happens along the way. Until then, we will happily remain in Grosvenor Square.
On November 13 I visited the Catapult Centre in Oxfordshire, near Oxford. I took the train and saw the beautiful English countryside on a sunny day, just as the leaves are all changing colours. The train station is dominated by two large power plants, one coal and one natural gas. The coal power plant recently closed after decades of operation, but, according to the cabbie, the area has low unemployment rates, in part due to all of the technology work.
The Catapult Centre is designed to help link science, research and new technologies to commercial applications that help create jobs. Everyone knows that the UK has always had a strong research base, but this effort seeks to build UK employment.
The Catapult Centre is just part of a large scientific complex, located near the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which studies laser and space applications, and includes the Diamond Light Centre, an enormous round building for experiments in radiation. They are hiring, by the way, as I ran into someone who had just interviewed for a job.
The Catapult Centre that I visited (there are seven) focuses on satellite applications. I took a few pictures of the demonstration, which showed different kinds of satellites. You could touch the screen, and it described the different parts of the satellite. Satellites can range in size from a car, to a refrigerator, to a shoebox.
They also have some very interesting applications. For example, some nuclear plants have intake valves that can be clogged by jellyfish, so that the plant is shut down for several days, and it is none too good for the jellyfish either. With satellite images you can see into the ocean and see when the jellyfish are coming around.
In another example, the Catapult Centre is working with a US company called Zero Gravity on seeds. It turns out that if a seed sprouts in zero gravity, it does not need to use all of its energy fighting gravity, but can instead express itself more fully. Most of these new expressions do not amount to anything, but a few can be breakthroughs. For example, we discussed how useful it would be to have a rice crop that could thrive in salt water.