Field Notes 
Voyager spacecrafts stretch to the edge    World summit over, energy issues linger

Voyager spacecrafts stretch to the edge

Last summer marked the 25th anniversary of the Voyager mission. Launched in 1977, the Voyager spacecrafts represent the longest running and one of the most successful missions of NASA’s space program. Now, Voyager 1 at 7.9 billion miles from Earth and Voyager 2 at 6.3 billion miles from Earth mark the furthest reaches of the solar system recorded by a spacecraft.

Voyager 2 obtained this image of Saturn on Aug. 11, 1981, from a range of 14.7 million kilometers. Above the planet are the satellites Dione (right) and Enceladus.

Scientists have high hopes for the Voyager spacecraft, which should reach the edge of the solar system within the next 10 years. First, scientists predict, they will hit a region of termination shock where the supersonic winds of the solar atmosphere abruptly slow and the effects of the Sun’s magnetic field become negligible. After moving through this region, the spacecraft will reach the heliopause boundary and then finally interstellar space, marking another milestone in their long journey of discovery.

Learn more about their missions at the NASA Voyager Web site.

Salma Monani

World summit over, energy issues linger

The World Summit on Sustainable Development ended Sept. 4, after 10 days of debate about achieving global environmental progress. Held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the summit was the first of its kind since a decade ago in Rio de Janeiro. In the end, all that the 64,000 delegates of this year’s summit had to show for the meeting was a 70-page final agreement document filled with many ideas but few specific courses of action. The document is not legally binding, but many hope that the negotiations borne out of the summit will promote international partnerships and change.

Among the agreements included in the implementation plan were to reduce by half the 2 billion people worldwide who live without access to proper sanitation by 2015; to set a target date of 2010 to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss; and to prohibit fishing in areas over harvested. Countries also agreed to establish a voluntary world solidarity fund to eradicate poverty and to promote social and human development. The fund would not duplicate existing United Nations (UN) funds and would encourage partnerships with the private sector.

Notably missing from the plan were any agreements on energy resources. The summit began with discussion on proposals to make renewable energy technologies account for 15 percent of the total global energy production by 2010. Although the European Union pressed hard for including that measure in the final agreement, several developed countries and oil producers, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Japan, resisted this proposal. The United States argued that because renewable energy is still more expensive than conventional energy sources, it is not always appropriate.

Countries reached no compromise goal on renewable energy. “It is one of the very difficult issues, and there are different approaches within the same regions and groups,” Gustavo Ainchil, Councellor for the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the UN, said in a statement. Ainchil facilitated the negotiations on the energy sections of the summit’s final agreement.

On a related front, the Kyoto Protocol again emerged. Both Canada and Russia announced that they support ratification of the 1997 agreement to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told delegates that ratification would occur “in the very near future.” Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said that he would put a proposal for ratification to parliament by the end of the year. Canada’s and Russia’s ratification will bring the Protocol into effect, satisfying a key requirement that ratifying countries account for at least 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, based on 1990 data.

At the summit, delegates agreed that States which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol “strongly urge States that have not already done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in a timely manner.” The Bush administration rejected the pact last year, in part because it felt the agreement would damage the U.S. economy.

President Bush came under criticism for not attending the summit. Secretary of State Colin Powell led the U.S. delegation. Some delegates were also disappointed that this year’s summit did not produce results as concrete as what came out of Rio 10 years ago. Nevertheless, U.S. officials are declaring the summit a success, especially in promoting partnerships between governments and corporations.

The U.N. identified more than 220 partnerships during the 10-day Summit, representing $235 million in resources, to complement government programs.

Lisa M. Pinsker

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