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In Brief | Nation and World 7/10/13

Legislation proposes national park on moon

DALLAS — It might not get as many visitors as Yellowstone National Park, but Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, wants a national historic park on the moon.

The word “park” can be misleading — the legislation she proposed would protect artifacts left on the moon from Apollo missions 11 through 17. No ground on the moon would be included, although the bill requires the nomination of Neil Armstrong’s first footprints on the moon for a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which offers protection to threatened sites.

“In light of other nations and private entities developing the ability to go to the Moon, the United States must be proactive in protecting artifacts left by the seven Apollo lunar landings,” Johnson said in a written statement.

The bill, which was introduced in the House on Monday, is sponsored by Johnson, the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and fellow committee member Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md.

A spokeswoman for the Democrats on the committee said those who take or damage artifacts on the moon would be subject to punishment under the same laws as those who take or damage property in national parks.

Obviously, such a bill would be hard to enforce and hard to protect. Johnson admits it sounds far-fetched to have a national historical park on the moon, but believes legal protection for the objects there is important.

“I don’t think that there is anything far-fetched about protecting and preserving such irreplaceable items and such a hallowed place,” she said in a statement.

The committee spokesperson also said the head of the Russian space agency, Vladimir Popovkin, has called for protection of relics from the first manned missions to the moon.

The bill has been referred to both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

Ancient tree smoldering for more than a year

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — An ancient giant sequoia has been smoldering for more than a year in Sequoia National Park, with the small fire even surviving a full Sierra Nevada winter, National Park Service officials said.

The smoldering sequoia has caused the temporary closure of a small part of the Congress Trail, a popular path dotted with giant trees that winds into the heart of the Giant Forest.

The fire started in June 2012 during a prescribed burn to eliminate brush and make the forest less prone to large wildfires, park officials said. An ember from that burn probably landed on the giant sequoia’s crown and started the fire.

A smaller, broken-off dead tree right next to the sequoia is also smoldering, park spokeswoman Linda Mutch said.

A fire has not kept alight through the winter in the park for at least 45 years, Mutch said.

Giant sequoias, the largest living things on Earth, are adapted to fires — in fact, fires are key to sequoias’ survival: they help to rid the forest of small trees and clear brush, forming gaps on the forest floor where a giant sequoia’s seeds can establish.

Lawmakers tell students to tweet amid loan debate

WASHINGTON — As Congress has struggled to reach a consensus on setting federal student loan rates, both parties have urged college students and 20-something former students to take a side on the issue by using the Twitter (hashtag) #DontDoubleMyRate.

That expansive messaging effort has led to confusion about the legislation, prompting a surge of phone calls to college and university financial aid offices. One of the biggest misconceptions is that all student loan holders will see a doubling of their interest rates — or even their entire monthly payments.

But the July 1 increase in the rate is on just one type of federal student loan, and alumni and a majority of students will not be affected by the change. But the more than 7 million who are expected to take out one of these loans this year eventually could see a loan bill that’s about $20 more per month — a burden, for sure, but not the crippling problem that has been portrayed by lawmakers in both parties, according to financial aid experts.

“There is a lot of misinformation about this, and a lot of it, I think, might be deliberate to cause angst among students so they will push for this,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a collection of websites dedicated to college admissions and financial aid. “It sounds dramatic to double the interest rate, but it’s really not. This will not push someone over the edge unless they were already teetering.”