Short Takes

Gas Canister Leak Forces Lab Evacuation

A faulty valve on a pressurized gas canister caused a leak of hydrogen chloride gas--a highly corrosive substance used for etching--at Conant Laboratory Monday evening, forcing its occupants to evacuate the building.

The incident occurred shortly before 8:00 p.m. at the Oxford Street laboratory when a graduate student tried to open a corroded gas canister with a wrench, Professor of Chemistry Elias J. Corey said.

"It opened full blast, all of a sudden--it was coming out at such a rate that it was hard to close."

Cambridge firefighters responded to a fire alarm and, after donning protective clothing, moved the canister to a gas hood in the laboratory that sucked away the remaining gas.


Cambridge Fire Chief Frank Murphy said there were no injuries or property damage.

Corey said the canister was small and the amount of gas released was only a few ounces. Hydrogen chloride is not dangerous in small amounts.

Soviet Space Shuttle Returns Successfully

The Soviet Union's first reusable spacecraft orbited the Earth twice today and landed eight miles from its launch pad in Central Asia, marking the first unmanned space shuttle flight ever, a spokesperson for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said yesterday.

Speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michael Caterina, educational representative for NASA, told an audience of about 200 people that the Soviets were able to complete a successful launch because they borrowed technology from the U.S. Space Shuttle.

"The Soviets saved hundreds of millions of dollars by letting us research the shuttle and then borrowing our ideas," said Caterina. He went on to say that the Soviet Shuttle copies the United States Shuttle in both aerodynamics and construction materials.

But although the Soviets are now ahead of the U.S. in space development, NASA is about to perform new research that will fill the gap, Caterina said. A telescope that the space shuttle will carry into space this summer, for example, will allow scientists to expand the distance they can observe. Work has been started on Skylab Freedom, which Caterina said would make the U.S.S.R.'s current skylab obsolete.

Called Buran, which means snowstorm in Russian, yesterday's shuttle proved the success of the Energia rocket. The rocket is the world's most powerful booster but is not used by the United States.