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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

Space travel's new Buzz

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, wants to help men set foot on Mars. He and a team of scientists are designing a super space shuttle that they hope can take a crew to the red planet as early as 2018. Mr. Aldrin's crew plans to build something massive: a craft that resembles a big space bus more than today's Columbia and Atlantis vessels. The ship would fly back and forth between the two planets, powered by both gravity and booster rockets. It would house up to 50 people taking six-month shuttle flights. The former astronaut said he first thought of a Mars shuttle in the mid-1990s, and now he is working with scientists from Purdue, MIT, and the University of Texas to make it a reality. Manned flight to the red planet has become space travel's new crusade. Jim Garvin, NASA's lead scientist for Mars exploration, says his agency will spend about $500 million a year over the next 10 years trying to reach that goal. In recent years, this dream has been clouded by problems. Two unmanned spacecraft failed upon reaching Mars in 1999. The planet's atmosphere burned up one and a software failure wrecked the other. Optimism grew this year, however, after the Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered an orbit and began mapping the minerals and chemicals on the planet's surface. According to Mr. Garvin, today's work on Mars exploration is mostly theoretical. No one expects to blast off anytime soon, if at all. "We're in a decade of discovery for Mars," he said. "It will fill in the homework we need, so come 2010, maybe sooner, we'll know enough to start asking the question, 'Now what do we do if we want to insert humans as the explorers?'"

Divide conquered?

Does the digital divide really exist? Are poor people oppressed if they can't access Yahoo, America Online, and Amazon.com? Such complaints have been lobbed at the high-tech industry for years-and now critics are targeting President Bush, saying he doesn't do enough to solve this supposed problem. The Consumers Union and other liberal groups say the White House is inadequately concerned about the gap between technology haves and have-nots. They want more federal efforts to promote Internet access. These activists say the Bush administration misinterprets an optimistic Commerce Department report released last February. It said over half of all Americans now use the Internet. More than 2 million people go online for the first time every month. And nine out of 10 school-age children can access computers either at home or at school. They say these figures hide the lack of access at home. Many analysts dismiss the idea of a digital divide, arguing that the alleged disparities result from the fact that consumer Internet use is relatively new. This innovation, they say, is trickling down to low-income households just as color TV, microwave ovens, and refrigerators did in the past. While Michael D. Gallagher of the Commerce Department says the digital divide is a genuine concern, he made similar arguments. He pointed out that other developments like cable TV and cell-phone use boomed across economic lines without government subsidy. "This administration focuses much more on digital opportunities as opposed to divides," Gallagher said. "We believe in expanded opportunities, which happen in schools, in libraries, in workplaces, and at home." Bush administration officials used the February results as evidence that the "digital divide" is fading away. They said Internet use growing at a faster-than-average rate among the poor and minorities and in rural areas. A $15 million program for "technology opportunities" was cut last year and is marked for elimination in the 2003 budget.

Dissatisfied doctors

More and more doctors are losing confidence in their profession. A new study finds that physician morale dropped over the last five years, and almost half would not recommend medicine as a career choice. The survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 87 percent of doctors said that overall morale within their profession had dropped. Yet their own feelings were a bit more optimistic: 58 percent said their own morale had dropped over the last five years. "Among the almost half of doctors who would not recommend the profession today, administrative hassles and loss of autonomy are cited as the main reasons for dissatisfaction, followed by excessive professional demands, less respect for the medical profession, and inadequate financial rewards," the Kaiser report said. "I don't know of anybody who is enjoying the practice of medicine the way they once did," Atlanta psychiatrist Sheldon Cohen told the American Medical News, a trade publication. "The biggest things are a lack of gratification and a lack of relationships with patients." - Chris Stamper

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