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New Evidence for Ancient Life on Mars?

A NASA scientist announced Thursday, October 10, that his team of researchers had found possible evidence of life in a second Mars meteorite, then backed off from his statement the next day.
[Image of possible Martian fossil]     On the "CBS Evening News" television program, Dr. David S. McKay of the Johnson Space Center said that the analysis of a second Mars meteorite had revealed "possible cell structures." The name of the meteorite in question was not announced.
     The next day, McKay clarified his statement by telling the Associated Press, "We have seen some very preliminary evidence that encourages us to look at other meteorites. What we have seen is very weak and is not something I would want to speculate on."
     McKay confirmed what he said to CBS but said, "I misspoke. I would like to pull back on that."
     The meteorite in question is much younger than ALH84001, the now-famous asteroid whose evidence of life was announced to the world two months ago. While ALH84001 was determined to be up to 4.5 billion years old, the second meteorite was much younger, on the order of 200 million to 1 billion years old.
     Moreover, the meteorite was identified as coming from an area of Mars that shows no sign of ancient water flows. McKay said the original location of the meteorite "makes it less likely" the features seen in it were caused by living creatures.

Young Memo Criticizes National Space Policy

NASA's senior astronaut spoke out strongly in an internal memo released last week against a new national policy announced last month that makes no mention of manned missions to the Moon or Mars.
     "The current proposed National Space Policy is long-term no vision," wrote long-time astronaut John Young in a memo distributed to top-level administrators at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) last month. The memo was released October 10.
     "This Nation's future goals must include human exploration and discovery of other places in our Solar System," Young wrote.
     Young's memo was written in advance of the September 19 release of the new National Space Policy. The policy makes no reference to manned space flight beyond construction and operation of the International Space Station.
     Young criticized current government leaders for their emphasis on "short-term budget balancing" and lack of vision. "The Department of Defense just received 11 billion dollars extra this year to boost the Nation's defense," Young wrote. "With less than half that sum we could return to the Moon in 5 years."
     Young, currently the associate director (technical) of JSC, is still a member of the astronaut corps. He has flown on six flights starting with the first manned Gemini flight in 1965. He walked on the Moon on the Apollo 16 mission and also commanded the first shuttle mission, STS-1, in 1981.

Shuttle Set for November 8 Launch

The shuttle Columbia is on schedule for a November 8 launch despite work to replace part of the orbiter's windshield earlier in the month.
[Image of STS-80 logo]     Two windows in the shuttle's cockpit were replaced when NASA officials concluded that the panes were in danger of breaking during launch. Neither window pane showed signs of cracking but both had been in the shuttle for seven or more missions.
     NASA originally feared the repairs would delay the mission, whose launch had already been pushed back once due to delays in the launch of Atlantis last month. "They were just way over-conservative in their estimate of how long it would take to replace the windows," said NASA spokesperson Lisa Malone.
     The 16-day mission features the third flight of the Wake Shield Facility (WSF), a free-flying spacecraft that creates a very powerful vacuum that aids in the growth of semiconductor films.
     A second free-flying satellite, ORFEUS-SPAS, will also be released. The joint German-U.S. astronomy satellite will be making its second flight to perform ultraviolet spectroscopy studies of newborn stars, active galaxies, quasars, and the interstellar medium.
     Astronauts Tamara Jernigan and Tom Jones will also perform a spacewalk to test tools and techniques that will be used during the construction of the International Space Station.

China Announces Plans for Manned Program

China plans to launch its first manned mission by the end of the century, officials announced at a Beijing conference last week.
[Image of Long March launch]     The announcement came at the 47th meeting of the International Astronautical Federation, which was held in the Chinese capital last week.
     It was not the first time China has announced plans for a manned space program, but this time the announcement was backed by action on several fronts. China has sent several potential cosmonauts to Russia for training.
     While some of the trainees will be prepared for joint missions with the Russians on the Mir space station, others are being trained for separate Chinese-only missions, sources said.
     China also announced plans for a new class of launch vehicle that will more than double its capacity to low Earth orbit. The announcement called for a rocket capable of placing 20 tons in orbit, compared to the 9.4-ton capacity of the Long March 3 series.

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