Saturday, August 2, 2008

White House Briefed By Nasa About Possible Life on Mars

The White House has been alerted by NASA about plans to make an announcement soon on major new Phoenix lander discoveries concerning the "potential for life" on Mars, scientists tell Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Sources say the new data do not indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars. Rather the data relate to habitability--the "potential" for Mars to support life--at the Phoenix arctic landing site, sources say.

The data are much more complex than results related NASA's July 31 announcement that Phoenix has confirmed the presence of water ice at the site.

International news media trumpeted the water ice confirmation, which was not a surprise to any of the Phoenix researchers. "They have discovered water on Mars for the third or fourth time," one senior Mars scientists joked about the hubbub around the water ice announcement.

The other data not discussed openly yet are far more "provocative," Phoenix officials say.

In fact, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory science team for the MECA wet-chemistry instrument that made the findings was kept out of a July 31 news conference at the University of Arizona Phoenix control center. The goal was to prevent them from being asked any questions that could reveal information before NASA is ready to make an announcement, sources say.

The Bush Administration's Presidential Science Advisor's office, however, has been briefed on the new information that NASA hopes to release as early as mid August. It is possible an announcement would not come until September, to allow for additional analysis. That will depend upon the latest results still being analyzed from the spacecraft's organic oven and soil chemistry laboratories.

Phoenix scientists have said from the start that neither the TEGA organic chemistry lab nor the MECA wet chemistry system could detect current or past life.

MECA's two microscopes do, however, have the resolution to detect bacteria--which would be life. Sources, however, say the microscopes have not detected bacteria.

The Phoenix scoop was successful in delivery of a soil/ice mixture to TEGA this week after the material stuck in the scoop on two tries. The analysis of that sample is under way. The sample contains about 1% ice and 99% soil.

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Navy: Sub -USS. Houston Leaked Radioactivity

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Water with trace amounts of radioactivity may have leaked for months from a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine as it traveled around the Pacific to ports in Guam, Japan and Hawaii, Navy officials told CNN on Friday.

The USS Houston arrives in Pearl Harbor for routine maintenance, during which the leak was found.

The leak was found on the USS Houston, a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, after it went to Hawaii for routine maintenance last month, Navy officials said.

Navy officials said the amount of radiation leaked into the water was virtually undetectable. But the Navy alerted the Japanese government because the submarine had been docked in Japan.

The problem was discovered last month when a build-up of leaking water popped a covered valve and poured onto a sailor's leg while the submarine was in dry dock.

An investigation found a valve was slowly dripping water from the sub's nuclear power plant. The water had not been in direct contact with the nuclear reactor, Navy officials said.

Officials with knowledge of the incident could not quantify the amount of radiation leaked but insisted it was "negligible" and an "extremely low level." The total amount leaked while the sub was in port in Guam, Japan and Hawaii was less than a half of a microcurie (0.0000005 curies), or less than what is found in a 50-pound bag of lawn and garden fertilizer, the officials said.

The sailor who was doused, a Houston crew member, tested negative for radiation from the water, according to Navy officials.

Since March, the Houston had crisscrossed the western Pacific, spending a week in Japan and several weeks in both Guam and Hawaii, Navy officials said.

The Navy on Friday notified the Japanese government of the leak, the officials said, and told them it was possible the ship had been leaking while in port in Sasebo, Japan, in March.

While Japan has agreed to allow U.S. nuclear-powered ships in Japanese ports, the decision was a not popular in Japan.

The Houston incident comes at a time when the Navy is trying to smooth over a problem with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

The USS George Washington was due to replace the aging, conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk this summer as the United States' sole carrier based in Japan.

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8/1/2008 11:36:00 PM
Japan warned of possible nuclear leak from US sub

By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press Writer

The U.S. Navy has warned that a nuclear submarine may have had radioactive leaks during recent port calls in Japan's south, the country's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was informed by the U.S. Navy that a small amount of radiation might have leaked from the nuclear-powered USS Houston as it traveled around the Pacific.

The Houston made calls in March and April in the southern Japanese naval ports of Sasebo and Okinawa.

The ministry said leaked radioactive cooling water was detected during routine maintenance on the Houston in Hawaii in June and it was believed to have posed no threat to humans or the environment.

Sasebo city official Akihiro Yoshida said the government monitoring during the submarine's port calls showed no abnormal increase of radioactivity in the area's waters.

"Still, we are rather concerned," Yoshida said.

The incident comes just weeks ahead of the arrival of the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington in Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo.

The ship's arrival was originally set for August under a Japan-U.S. security alliance, but is being delayed until late September because of a fire aboard the vessel in May. The George Washington is relieving the soon-to-be decommissioned USS Kitty Hawk and will be the first U.S. Navy nuclear powered vessel to station permanently in Japan.

The George Washington's deployment had already triggered protests and the fire escalated concerns that many Japanese have about nuclear power.

In Honolulu, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Scott Gureck said Friday the amount of radioactivity released into the environment from the USS Houston at each stop was less than one half a microcurie _ a negligible amount equivalent to the radioactivity of a 50-pound bag of fertilizer.

The Navy discovered the leak July 17 when a gallon of water spilled on a shipyard worker's leg from a valve while the submarine was in dry dock for routine maintenance at Pearl Harbor.

An investigation showed water may have been slowly leaking from the valve since March as the Los Angeles-class submarine traveled around the Pacific.

The Houston is based at Apra Harbor in the U.S. territory of Guam in the Western Pacific. The submarine sat in Pearl Harbor for about three weeks before it was dry-docked in mid-July.


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