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28 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 05 February 2010

This week the US President, Barack Obama, cancelled the project designed to take NASA back to the moon. The Constellation Program was supposed to have astronauts on the lunar surface by 2020. In his budget request the President said the project was too costly, "behind schedule, and lacking in innovation". It is not all bad news though – the new budget gives support to private companies - in the hope of creating more open competition. So could the commercial spaceflight industry be the way forward for future manned missions? BBC Science Correspondent and resident space expert Jonathan Amos joins us on the programme.

Meanwhile, astronomers here on Earth have used a brand new technique to study the atmospheres of planets outside our own solar system, known as extra-solar planets or exoplanets, in the hope of finding one that could support life. This new work, reported in the journal Nature, could help us in the search for other earth like planets. Jon Stewart visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, and met Dr. Pieter Deroo, one of the researchers behind this new technique. It is only in the last couple of decades that we’ve had the ability to detect extra-solar planets at all. The first was spotted fifteen years ago – and now we know of more than four hundred – almost all of them gas giants similar to Jupiter. After this explosion in discovery, scientists are now starting to try to find out more about the planets.

A row over the way science is published and why it matters has been in the news in the UK. Scientific discoveries reported in reputable journals go through a process known as peer review – whereby research is independently assessed by experts in the field to ensure academic quality. However the process is not without its critics. This week that the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - has already come under fire for the quality of some of its peer reviewed research over the rate of melting glaciers. Another claim has been made by scientists working with stem cells, who say that publication of their research is being blocked by the people who are being asked to review the work in the first place. Science in Action takes a step back and looks at what peer review actually is and if the system is really open to abuse. Mark Patterson, the Director of Publishing at the Public Library of Science, another peer reviewed journal, joins us on the programme.

Continuing our series on life on Earth as part of the International Year of Biodiversity, Science in Action looks at some of the oldest animals on the Planet and how they could be key to overcoming a very new threat. The giant salamanders of Japan and China are by some distance the biggest amphibians on the planet. They have survived virtually unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs. But recently scientists have found a new reason to prize them – they may hold the key to controlling a devastating fungal disease that is attacking amphibians around the world. But are the salamanders safe from environmental threats themselves? Our environment correspondent Richard Black has just been to Japan for a closer look at the species that Japanese call the hanzaki.

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