Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Air travellers were facing at least two days of delays after a huge cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano provoked the most extensive shutdown of airspace since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
I have long aspired to reach for the clouds
And I again ascend Jinggang Mountain.
Coming from afar to view our old haunt,
I find new scenes replacing the old.
Everywhere orioles sing, swallows dart,
And the road mount skyward.
Once Huangyanggai is passed
No other perilous place calls for a glance.
Wind and thunder are stirring,
Flags and banners are flying
Wherever men live.
Thirty-eight years are fled
With a mere snap of the fingers.
We can clasp the moon in the Ninth Heaven
And seize turtles deep down in the Five Seas:
Nothing is hard in this world
If you dare to scale the heights.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
India's dream to become sixth nation to successfully deploy cryogenic technology crashed down when Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D3) carrying a GSAT4 and GAGAN satellite exploded from the Satish Dhawan space center at Sriharikota on Thursday.
The GSLV-D3 was to put the satellites into orbit, but signals stopped coming from the rocket within 505 seconds of its launch. The rocket had managed to reach 60 km height above sea level before it changed its designated path and crashed into the Bay of Bengal.
Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of Indian Space Research Organization said: "We are not sure whether the main cryogenic engine did ignite. We have to confirm after analyzing the data which is expected to take two or three days." This was his maiden launch as the head of ISRO and the second GSLV launch to fail in the past six instances. Radhakrishnan said that the launch of next GSLV with Indian made cryogenic engine would take place again within a year after errors are resolved.
This was the first launch using Indian made cryogenic engine, after India failed to import the technology from Russia in 1992, as US opposed the deal.
However, if the mission had been successful then India would have joined the group of countries to deploy cryogenic technology, in addition to US, Russia, China, France and Japan.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The final communique and work plan for the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit are predictably vague and voluntary but are not the main point of the meeting
Washington is in the throes of grinding to a halt for the Nuclear Security Summit on Monday and Tuesday, when delegations from 47 countries, 38 of them led by heads of state or government, come to town to talk about locking up the world's "loose" nuclear material.
This is Act III of Barack Obama's nuclear strategy, following the publication of the Nuclear Posture Review and the signing of the New Start treaty with Russia. Act IV will come next month in New York, at the review of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
The common aim is to contain the twin menace of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, which Obama has identified as the principal threats to his country and to global security. The NPR and Start have both underwhelmed arms control purists, but have generally been welcomed as positive steps towards disarmament given the political environment Obama is operating in.
The Nuclear Security Summit is likely to trigger the same mixed emotions. The copies of the summit's final communique and workplan that I've seen inevitably read like the lowest common denominator documents they are. The communique preamble, reads as follows:
That nails down the main formal aim of the exercise - official backing for the Obama deadline to secure the world's stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU). The communique puts "fundamental responsibility" for looking after the stockpiles in the hands of national governments, but asks for more support for the various international conventions on the issue, which mostly languish unratified or ignored, in particular the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The accompanying work plan goes into more detail, calling itself a political (voluntary) commitment to take concrete actions. But those actions include efforts to bring the two UN conventions into force as legally binding documents. The plan calls for more support for the IAEA so that the agency can help states tighten their own security through an evolving set of guidelines. Rich countries are also urged to help poorer countries to better guard fissile material in the research reactors dotted around the world. Also:
There is to be another summit at a yet-to-be-specified location in 2012, to assess progress, but the bar for that progress is set comfortably low. What is lacking, even in the UN conventions, is any 'gold standard' for what the security on a nuclear site should look like. (Ian Kearns at BASIC has written a paper called "Keeping the lid on", on what ought to come out of the summit) Even the IAEA security guidelines would not provide adequate protection against a determined terrorist assault on a university research reactor.
The main point of the exercise however is to get leaders from over 40 countries together to focus on an issue that is normally paid lip-service to. It sets a benchmark for good global citizenship, and more importantly a new benchmark for getting along well with Washington.
To that end, the world leaders have all been asked to bring something to the party, and that is where the real meat of the summit will be found. Chile shipped its HEU to the US last month, just in time for the summit. Other states, probably including Ukraine and Canada, will promise to convert HEU reactors to more proliferation-proof LEU. And the US and Russia will sign a deal on Monday to each dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium removed from weapons by using it to generate nuclear power.
The invited leaders will also be feel some pressure to come up with some concrete achievement to bring back in 2012, and so orders will be given and officials chivvied to do something. It is the art of leveraging political capital, and there is no question Obama is putting a lot of capital, time and energy, into what is arguably the world's most serious but neglected security problem.