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News briefs: August 30
Posted: Sat, Aug 31, 2002, 3:22 PM ET (1922 GMT)
  • NASA announced several contract awards late Friday to develop advanced technologies for future spacecraft missions. The awards will cover work on aerocapture, ion propulsion, solar sails, and power conversion technology for nuclear electric propulsion. A total of $3 million is available for this work in 2002, with over $30 million each year in 2003 and 2004, contingent on budget approvals.
  • Airbags, long used to save lives in auto collisions, could save the Earth from a collision with an asteroid, according to New Scientist magazine. Hermann Burchard of Oklahoma State University proposes sending a spacecraft to the vicinity of a threatening asteroid, and then inflating an airbag several kilometers wide that would gently nudge the asteroid. By spreading the deflecting force over the wide area of the airbag, Burchard believes, asteroids could be moved off course without risking a breakup.
  • Dark-sky legislation met an unusual fate recently in Massachusetts: it was lost. Astronomy.com reported that the state legislature had approved legislation limiting light pollution as part of a transportation bond bill, but the dark-sky provision was missing in the version of the bill signed by the governor. Bill proponents believe a simple clerical error caused the omission, and will try to get it passed again in a special session in the fall.
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