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Science notes / Astronomy, genetics

NASA seeks new astronauts

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced it will start accepting applications for its next class of astronaut candidates sometime in November.

"For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps," said Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or math -- plus three years of relevant, post-university work experience. Graduate degrees are a plus, and can be substituted for time spent working in the real world. It would also help to have extensive experience flying high-performance jet aircraft. Applicants will be selected from both the civilian world and the military.

Duane Ross, manager for astronaut candidate and training selection for NASA, said there is no specific age range. Applicants must have distance vision that is correctable to 2 0/2 0 and a resting blood pressure that does not exceed 14 0/9 0. Eligible candidates also must be between 5 foot 2 and 6 foot 3.

The astronaut training will take place at the Johnson Space Center and will take about two years. Ross said NASA's goal is to graduate all of the students.

-- Los Angeles Times


Gene magnifies parental power

Why do some children of mean, neglectful parents become rotten human beings themselves, while their siblings thrive cheerfully? And why do certain offspring of loving, attentive parents grow into well-adjusted adulthood while their siblings become sour misanthropes? In short, why does good parenting only sometimes produce good kids, and bad parenting only sometimes produce bad kids?

The answer may lie in the genes. Specifically, the 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter-promoter gene, which governs the activity of the mood chemical serotonin in the brain and essentially comes in three varieties. About one in five children are born with a variant that, according to past studies, makes them highly sensitive to the effects of neglectful, insensitive or abusive parents.

A study published this month in the journal Translational Psychiatry breaks new ground in asking whether those same children might also be super-sensitive to the effects of good parenting. In three different experiments, researchers tested 1,874 children between the ages of 8 and 16 to determine which variation of the 5-HTTLPR allele they had, what their overall mood state was and what quality of parenting they had.

Researchers found that, when blessed with warm, supportive parents, the kids with the same 5-HTTLPR variation that predisposed them to be sensitive to poor parenting were disproportionately likely to be very happy and well-adjusted.

-- Los Angeles Times