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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Affordable Return To The Moon To Stay 

On Monday, July 20, the 46th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the Moon, I attended a press conference in Washington, DC describing the release of a study commissioned by NASA on how humans can return to the Moon more affordably by means of commercial and international partnerships. The study was conducted by NexGen Space LLC, a consulting company, with the support of the Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society. The full report is available at this link (PDF).

    Panel listens to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin commenting (via phone) on the just released study report on how to affordably return to the Moon to stay.

The report's executive summary summarized the conclusions:
Based on these assumptions, NexGen’s analysis concludes that by using an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that leverages innovative commercial and international partnerships:

• America could return humans to the surface of the Moon within 5-7 years of authority to proceed within NASA’s existing human spaceflight budget, at a cost of about $5 Billion (+/- 20%) for each commercial service provider by using commercial partnership methods.

• America could develop a permanent base on the Moon of 4 astronauts about 10-12 years after first setting foot on the Moon, that provides 200 MT of propellant per year in lunar orbit for NASA, again within NASA’s existing deep space human spaceflight budget and for a total cost of about $40 Billion (+/- 20%).

• A commercial lunar base providing propellant in lunar orbit would reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $10 Billion per year. Such a commercial service would substantially reduce the cost and technical risk of using the Space Launch System (SLS) to send humans to Mars, by reducing the number of SLS launches required from as many as 12 to a total of 3.

• A permanent lunar base operated by commercial industry could substantially, if not completely, pay for itself by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for NASA to send humans to Mars.



The report received wide attention inside the space community and in the general media. Lunar geologist Paul Spudis, a longtime advocate for returning to the Moon, critiqued the study in  this article. Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has already expressed interest in establishing a lunar "village" through international and commercial partnerships. While running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed establishing a lunar base, which he likely intended to be implemented with a strong commercial partnership approach, similar to what is recommended by this new study report.

This study's approach is not binding on NASA or Congress and may face resistance by some who favor more established ways of implementing large space projects. It does provide a starting point for developing innovative and affordable ways for the United States to maintain a leading role in what is becoming an increasing global enterprise of expanding humanity beyond Earth.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Forty Six Years Ago Today, We Stepped On Another World 


NASA

Today is the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 pioneering expedition to the lunar surface, the day human beings first made landfall on another world. Check out Rand Simberg's ceremonial commemoration of that epic voyage. Here is a brief video capturing highlights of the first two explorers on the Moon.



The Moody Blues were one of the premier rock music bands of that era. They were (and still are) great fans of space travel. Here is a video of highlights of the Apollo lunar expeditions accompanied by the first three songs from their 1969 album To Our Childrens' Childrens' Children, which was the band's celebration of the first human lunar landing.



Today is also the twelfth anniversary ('blogiversary') of the launch of this humble blog. Here is the inaugural post (Note that I was too inexperienced to think of giving it a title.) on Life at the Frontier.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

New Horizons' Epic Journey Arrives at Pluto 

After a nine-and-a-half year journey following its launch from Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft arrived this week at the system of Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft just a quickly departed but will continue to transmit the treasures of pictures and data it collected for months to come. The few pictures already downlinked and released reveal amazing detail about Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

The mission was developed and operated for NASA by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. To review the mission activities and see continuing updates, check the New Horizons APL web site.



Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (77,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


 This annotated view of a portion of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), named for Earth’s first artificial satellite, shows an array of enigmatic features.  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

I actually had a close encounter with New Horizons a few months before its launch. In September 2005, I was just assigned to the flight safety team for the final Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. We had some visitors from Johnson Space Center (JSC) in town for meetings and so I was able to tag along as they were given a tour of the giant clean room in Building 29 at Goddard Spaceflight Center to inspect Hubble hardware.

We entered the clean room dressed in "bunny suits" to prevent contamination of sensitive hardware. In the corner near the entrance, there was a modest size spacecraft mostly covered in bright gold insulating material. It was the New Horizons spacecraft, undergoing some tests at Goddard before being launched on its epic voyage to Pluto. As I stood there, tingles went up my spine as I realized that in a few months’ time, this machine just a few feet away from me would be screaming on its way to Pluto, the mysterious little world in the Outer Solar System that fascinated me since childhood.

Now, nearly ten years later, that little spacecraft has accomplished its closest approach to Pluto and its system of moons. Even after transmitting all of its Pluto mission data, the New Horizons mission will not be over. Scientists are already considering a plan to target one or more other Kuiper Belt Objects close enough to New Horizons' trajectory for possible close up examination. There's still a lot out there to explore.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

As It Happened, the Apollo 11 Launch 

Forty six years ago this morning, Apollo 11 lifted off on the voyage to land the first men on the Moon. Here's a replay of what it looked like on TV from ~6 min before 'til ~4 min after launch. (The video quality is somewhat degraded from that of the live TV broadcast.) The terse, crisp voice of Jack King (who passed away last month) as Apollo Launch Control added to the drama of the historic countdown. Relive the moment or experience what it was like.

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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Independence Day! 

Stars And Stripes by Junior Libby

As we join in the festivities of the Fourth, let's strive to keep to the values proclaimed in the Declaration that make it worth celebrating.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is a time to be mindful and protective of the full range of personal, religious and economic liberties. Some additional thoughts from around the web remind us of the significance of some words from the second stanza of America the Beautiful and thoughts on the Stars and Stripes from a famous Catholic English writer.
Wow. Think about that line: "by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." Have you ever thought about your flag that way - so Christ-like? G. K. Chesterton did. It’s a stirring interpretation of America and its mission.

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Personal Rough Times And Prayers 

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. It's been a rough couple of months. My older sister Mary passed away in May after a long illness and then my brother Jack passed suddenly in June. May God grant Mary and Jack eternal rest and comfort to those of us who miss them both dearly. May we meet again in the company of Our Lord.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sine Die: The Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent 



The Maryland General Assembly adjourned Monday night after its ninety-day session for 2015. Here is a summary of highlights of the good, the bad and the ugly that was passed during this session.

The good news is that now Gov. Hogan is there to fight off new taxes, contain spending increases and restore some common sense to Maryland government. More good news is that one particularly bad bill that would have allowed for assisted suicide was itself put to death before even making it out of committee. Vigilance will be required to fight this battle again next year.

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Have a Blessed and Happy Easter! 

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
"Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day."
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Lk 24:1-12

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 



Today is March 17, St. Patrick's Day. Be blessed, safe, and happy however you are celebrating Ireland's patron saint.

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort me and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

In the spirit of the holiday, check out LiveIreland.com for webcasts of Irish music and other media direct from Ireland.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Remembering Fallen Pioneers 



NASA, the nation and the world are observing this  week the anniversaries of human losses in spaceflight: Apollo 1 (forty  eight years ago today, January 27), Challenger (twenty nine years  ago tomorrow, January 28), and Columbia (twelve years ago this coming Sunday,  February 1).

May they be always remembered, along with the four Russians, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo pilot and all those who have or will give their lives in the future as humans expand outward to explore, develop and settle new places in the cosmos.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Marching For Life In 2015 

I participated today in the 42nd annual March for Life in Washington, DC. While I did not have an overhead view to see the whole crowd, it was likely in the hundreds of thousands. Thankfully, temperatures were more moderate this year than they were for last year's gathering of the "frozen chosen". Regardless of the weather, this marking of the somber anniversary of the 1973 abortion decisions becomes a joyful affirmation of the dignity of human life with a large proportion of young participants.

From the front of the March, the huge crowd extends back over many blocks of Constitution Ave.
 
 
My friends from Colorado came to DC to join the March this year.
 
The "progressive" label does not always denote authentic human progress.
 
Young people lead the March.
 
Silent No More brings the personal pain of abortion to the Supreme Court.
 
 
 
It can't be any clearer than how Horton says it.
 
Secular Prolife makes the case that protecting the unborn is a human rights issue based on solid science.
 
  
Here I am in front of the Supreme Court.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why We March 

This is a slightly revised and updated article I first wrote and posted in 2004 at this time.

March for Life 2010 ascending Capitol Hill on the way to the Supreme Court

Thursday, January 22, will mark the 42nd anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which imposed abortion-on-demand in the United States. Once again, concerned citizens will gather for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn an estimated several hundred thousand participants. Now, why do so many people consider it so important to take time on a weekday to come to Washington, DC at the coldest time of the year to make their voice heard on this matter?

Before I go on any further, I need to say a couple of things. First, nothing in this article is meant to condemn anyone who has had an abortion or has been involved in abortion in some way. Far from condemning those with an abortion in their past, the people in the prolife movement are about healing and forgiveness, and want it to be clear that there is hope after abortion. Post-abortion counseling can be found through many church denominations and pregnancy counseling centers.

And second, while the prolife movement consists largely of people with strong religious convictions who feel called by God to defend the defenseless, that doesn't make the protection of human life a narrow religious issue. The facts that the defenseless exist and that they deserve protection in the human family can be persuasively advocated by non-religiously reasoned arguments.

First, let's start with a little scientific background (from the Science for Unborn Human Life website) about how each of us began our lives as unique human beings. A new human being is conceived when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The sperm has 23 chromosomes and so does the egg. But the fertilized egg has 46, half from each parent, and is genetically unique. These 46 chromosomes, which are fixed at conception, establish the child's sex and are a blueprint for how it will develop, both during pregnancy and after birth.

Blood vessels start to form very early, about 13-18 days after fertilization. Then, on about the 20th day - nearly the end of the third week - the foundation of the brain, the spinal cord, and the entire nervous system is established. The heart begins to beat on about the 22nd day after conception, circulating blood throughout the child. The arms begin to form on about day 26, followed by the beginnings of the legs on day 28, the same day that the mouth opens for the first time.

Both the eyes and ears are developing rapidly during the seventh week after conception. At this time, the thumbs, neck, heels of the feet and all of the fingers are also present. Taste buds begin to form during the eighth week after conception. All parts of the limbs are apparent at this time. In addition, the fingers and toes have lengthened and are completely separated.

By the end of the eighth week the overwhelming majority (several thousand) of the body's organs, structures and systems have already begun to develop. Few, if any, new structures begin to form after this time. During the remainder of the pregnancy, development consists mainly of growth and maturation of the parts of the body that are already present.

Isolated arm, leg and backward head movements begin at about 7 to 10 weeks after conception. During the ninth week, a regular pattern of breathing movements is observed, with a median frequency of about 30 breaths each hour.

These are just the highlights of how you developed during the first 2-3 months of your life. Now consider that a majority of abortions are performed during the tenth to twelfth week of gestation. Some are performed much later in the pregnancy, when the child has grown larger and any unbiased observer would recognize a baby when they see one.

So why if the evidence so clearly indicates that a unique human life begins at conception, how did the deliberate and violent destruction of that life come to be imposed as a 'constitutional right'? Time does not permit describing the whole history of abortion or the intertwining influences of the eugenics and population control movements. Let's start with the socially turbulent late sixties when a growing pro-abortion movement subversively exploited the legitimate aspirations of women for greater rights and participation in society.

The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, since changed his mind and heart and became a leading prolife advocate. He points out the disinformation at the heart of the pro-abortion campaign.
- "The statistics that we gave to the American public about illegal abortions annually; the statistics we fabricated regarding the number of women dying from illegal abortions annually; all of these matters were pure fabrication and still persist to this very day."

- "We spoke of 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?"

- "We in NARAL were in the business of coining slogans principally for the media . . . we scattered catchy slogans for them . . . to use . . . in their stories. Slogans like "reproductive rights", "freedom of choice", "pro-choice". For many years we've known them to be hollow and meaningless. They're just catchy and, essentially, without substance."

The movement made rapid progress. California, New York and a few other states passed 'liberalized' abortion laws (though some other states rejected them). But what imposed abortion on American law were two Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, pronounced on January 22, 1973. The combined effect of the two decisions was to effectively impose abortion-on-demand throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that time, over fifty seven million human beings have been exterminated by abortion in the United States.

Aside from the grave issue that was decided, the finding that abortion is part of a constitutional 'right of privacy' is considered an overreach of judicial power even by some legal scholars who describe themselves as 'prochoice'. The 'reasoning' was based on 'penumbras' the justices claim to have seen in the constitution.

Did you know that the two plaintiffs in the Roe and Doe cases, Norma McCorvey and the late Sandra Cano, have filed affidavits to the effect that they were manipulated into their roles and that the decisions should be overturned? You would think that this development would be considered unprecedented in Supreme Court history, but apparently Chris Matthews, Diane Sawyer, the New York Times, etc. forgot to inform you.

One fact that is becoming evident that abortion-on-demand is not such a great thing for women. Abortion has left many women emotionally and sometimes physically scarred. Campaigns such as Silent No More and Women Deserve Better are tapping into this hidden anguish.

Also evident is the effect on our society, with conflicting attitudes on how we treat not only the unborn, but also the sick, disabled and elderly. Consider the heart wrenching case of the judicially imposed death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo in 2005. Abortion has torn marriages and families apart, and led to a hardened and increasingly violent culture. The raging debate over embryonic stem cell research and human cloning shows the growing risk posed by a disregard for the dignity of every human life.

So, we have had for the past forty two years, a culture that in some ways has grown cynical, forgoing the promise of a hopeful future for instant gratification, or more often, the resignation to unimaginative 'solutions' that pit mother against child or people against the planet. One is reminded of a quote from the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere a ceremony of innocence was drowned."

These Supreme Court abortion decisions were assumed to have 'settled' the issue in our society. Yet much to the consternation of the pro-abortion establishment, the movement of concerned citizens to protect life has only grown in strength over the past forty two years. The prolife movement has pursued multiple paths: educating the public, lobbying and litigating for change, participating in politics, and especially reaching out to help women with unplanned pregnancies. On the political front, abortion continues to play a pivotal role in national and state elections and in the debate over health care and other public legislation, and is becoming increasingly intertwined with issues of religious and personal liberty and freedom of speech. The powers-that-be and others who want to silence the prolife movement must be terrified (even if subconsciously) that the brutal reality of abortion will be exposed. Presidents, economic cycles and other controversies come and go, but the struggle for life goes on.

Particularly significant is that the change in public attitudes on abortion is most striking among young people (who've lost peers they've never met). This is manifested in polling results and an upsurge of prolife activism among teens, college students, and new media savvy activists who are exposing the dark side of the abortion industry. This is much to the consternation of their professors and, in some cases, their parents. Sort of adds a new twist to some lyrics from the sixties by Buffalo Springfield:
"Young people speakin' their minds, A-gettin' so much resistance from behind."

So the buses are starting to roll, as thousands from distant states once again journey to Washington, where many will gather in prayer the night before or the morning of the March. Then we will rally and march, knowing that those we are trying to defend would some day defend our nation, write great literature, cure disease, compose stirring music, and explore and begin to settle the Solar System.

But more than for their potential accomplishments, we speak out for them simply because of the inherent dignity of each of their lives. In so doing we are responding to a great calling as individuals and as a civilization. And we'll continue to speak and march and work and pray, confident in the hope that, one of these years, we'll no longer face the cold winds. Instead, we'll gather on a warm spring day to celebrate the inclusion of the youngest in the human family within the protection of the law.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Circus On The Severn Convenes - With A New Sheriff In Town 


The Maryland General Assembly convened on Wednesday for its 2015 ninety day run, with the new dynamic created by the election of Republican Governor Larry Hogan. Let's hope that the talk of cooperation by the legislative leaders is followed through and that the focus this year will be on restoring prosperity to all of Maryland's people rather than trying to impose a "progressive" fantasy world on the state as often happened in the past few years.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Crazy But Hopeful Year: 2014 

Each year seems to flash by quicker than the one preceding it, but still is packed full of events: horrible, hopeful, or just plain weird. 2014 was no exception, containing all of the above, with some change for the better.

The year that marked the centennial of the start of the First World War thankfully did not provide a repeat, but it did have its share of real instability and grotesque violence. Tensions in Ukraine escalated on the world stage as Russia used its forces to execute its claim on the region of Crimea.

Violence on several fronts marked the year in the Middle East. The rise of the "Islamic State" (or ISIS or ISIL or whatever it was called week-to-week) in Iraq and Syria brought unspeakable crimes against Christians, Jews, Yazidis and others, including other Muslims who did not join the IS in its bizarre beliefs and barbaric actions. Meanwhile, tensions flared up in Gaza as Hamas went on a violent offensive and Israel took decisive measures to neutralize the Hamas actions. Meanwhile, Iran continues to lurk in the background to strengthen its dominance in the region.

Disease became as threatening as war during the year as the Ebola virus surged in Africa, bringing fears of a worldwide epidemic. Rapid implementation of counter-measures and the introduction of new, untested therapies helped to diminish the threat by late in the year, though the suffering in Africa and the continued risk of disease spread mandate continued attention and vigilance.

The United States saw a rise in tensions as incidents of violence between young black males and police in Ferguson, MO, NYC and other cities inflamed issues of police use of force v. incitement of unrest exploiting emotions over tragic but sometimes explainable confrontations between citizens and police.

The Mid-term Elections proceeded peacefully after months of shrill and often expensive campaigns. The foreign crises spinning out of control, a growing list of abuses and scandals (NSA, IRS, Benghazi, executive orders, etc.) and the accelerating debacle of Obamacare led to Republican victories across the nation that gave the GOP control of the US Senate and increased margins in the House. Equally significant were shifts in the states, including Republicans winning governor seats in usually strong Democratic states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts. With President Obama finishing his second term in the White House, the stage is being set for heated battles for the 2016 presidential nomination in both parties. The 2016 election will be decisive as to what vision for America prevails for the foreseeable future.

Humanity continued its slow but steady push to explore and move into the universe, even with a couple of notable setbacks. Mars received two new robotic visitors this year, from NASA and from India. Meanwhile, India also advanced by using its first test of its heavy lift launch vehicle to also test fly a model re-entry capsule that could become India's first human carrying space vehicle in coming years. Meanwhile, NASA successfully took its Orion human exploration vehicle out on its first uncrewed trial run and Russia tested a heavy lift version of its new generation of rockets as the year came to a close. The explosion of the Antares rocket and the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo with one of its crew are reminders that there is sometimes a steep price to be paid in expanding a frontier. The two companies, Orbital and Virgin, are already working on their paths to recovery of their space ventures.

As the Earth completes another revolution of the Sun, we say farewell to 2014 and ask God's blessings as we enter the new year of  2015, whatever it brings.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have a Holy and Merry Christmas! 

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
"Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Luke 2:1-14

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