Tuesday, January 28, 2014
NASA, the nation and the world are observing this week the anniversaries of human losses in spaceflight: Apollo 1 (forty seven years ago yesterday, January 27), Challenger (twenty eight years ago today, January 28), and Columbia (eleven years ago this coming Saturday, February 1).
May they be always remembered, along with the four Russians and those who will give their lives in the future as humans expand outward to explore, develop and settle new places in the cosmos.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
The March has received attention from around the world. Most noteworthy is a tweet of support from Pope Francis: "I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable".
Pictures tell the story of this gathering to speak out for the defenseless unborn and for an end to the unjust imposition of abortion on demand that takes so many of their lives. (Click on each pic to enlarge it.)
Monday, January 20, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, will mark the 41st 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 six 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 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 one 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 one 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 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 national 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.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
The past week was the first full week of 2014 and it featured at least four significant events advancing capabilities to enter space more affordably.
On Sunday, January 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) succeeded in launching its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), including its domestically developed cryogenic upper stage, after several previous troubled attempts. This launch vehicle increases India's capabilities to launch payloads into space and to compete for commercial launch contracts.
One day later, on Monday, January 6, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket carrying the Thaicom 6 commercial telecommunications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit, one month after executing its first launch of a commercial communications satellite. This launch helps to build SpaceX's track record in competitively conducting launches, potentially shaking up the global launch market and enabling more affordable access to space.
On Thursday, January 9, Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched the Cygnus/Antares launch vehicle on its first operational cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) (following the demonstration cargo delivery last September). The cargo delivered to the ISS on Sunday, January 12 included ISS supplies, student science experiments, the 28 small satellites for Planet Labs' commercial remote sensing constellation and belated Christmas gifts. The launch was delayed several times from mid-December by ISS repairs and terrestrial and space weather conditions.
Finally, on Friday, January 10, Virgin Galactic successfully conducted the third powered flight test of its SpaceShipTwo commercial suborbital space vehicle. SpaceShipTwo did not go high enough to enter space during this test flight, but it was an important step toward achieving that goal. Once test flights are completed, Virgin plans to start carrying paying passengers and research payloads (possibly later this year).
Progress in space endeavors, including the growing commercial space industry, is dependent on continued technical progress, financial backing and forward looking public policy. Still, 2014 is off to a good start in the continuing growth of space enterprise.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
President Barack Obama used his second inauguration to declare his intention to continue pursuing a "progressive" agenda. However, the usual presidential second term blues seemed to come on even faster and more intense than usual as the conversation turned to the the alphabet soup of scandals involving the use of the IRS in impeding political opposition and the revelation of the expansion of the NSA's information gathering to include possibly electronic communications made by anyone. And then there is still the ongoing question of what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
In October, the partial 'shutdown' of the federal government resulted from deadlocks in Congress and with the Administration over Obamacare, spending and the debt. After the dust settled, it became apparent that Obamacare is every bit the "train wreck" that had been foreseen by many.
International developments included the bloody conflict and gruesome terrorism in Syria and other places and Iran's inching toward possession of nuclear weapons, while China and Russia each sought to reassert superpower status. Weakness in US leadership is not a good thing especially in light of these ominous developments.
Natural disasters were as frequent as ever, from tornadoes and winter storms in the US to the devastating hurricane in the Philippines, along with others that have slipped my mind at the moment.
Developments in science, technology and medicine continued to advance. Expansion into space continued, including the quickening pace on the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast (highlights from April and September), the demonstration of robotic refueling technology and another company announcing an asteroid prospecting/mining venture. The appearance of an exploding small asteroid over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February was a clear reminder that whether or not we go into space, space will come to us.
The other startling event in February was the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI of his resignation from the papacy, the first in ~600 years. His successor, Pope Francis has brought an informality and "hands-on" style that has captured the world's attention. While some hope for and others fear radical changes, there is a fundamental continuity between Francis and his predecessors. Most important is his reminder that our hope is in Jesus Christ and in the Father's Love that will sustain us as we enter into the perilous yet promising year of 2014.
Monday, December 23, 2013
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."
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Thanksgiving has a long history in our country, but the theme of giving thanks goes much further back in history, as recorded in the Bible. Two articles point out this significance as Thanksgiving this year is in an extremely rare coincidence with Hanakkah and the end of this Thanksgiving weekend coincides with the First Sunday of Advent.
Have a good time with family and friends and don't eat any more than I would. ;-)
Rabbi Daniel Lapin has a provocative column in WorldNetDaily on a message of Hanukkah that is relevant to people of all faiths. He shows examples, ancient and modern, of how a pessimistic Malthusian worldview has been repeatedly disproved by the Creator's providence of material resources and the ingenuity to utilize them to provide for the future. Rabbi Lapin says:
It only seemed that we lacked sufficient copper, whale oil or wood. In reality, our God-given ingenuity developed exciting new technology that eliminated our need for each commodity just as it was becoming scarce.
Hanukkah's miracle was that, day after day, the Temple's menorah just kept on burning in spite of an apparent shortage of fuel - a metaphor, surely, for all apparent shortages that can be overcome with faith. Hanukkah invites us all to express gratitude to the Creator whose beneficence is boundless. It stimulates discussions that can spur our spiritual growth. It reminds us that with His gift of creativity, challenges become optimistic opportunities to partner with God in creatively solving all material shortage.
Friday, November 22, 2013
In the Fall of 1963, I was in third grade. On that Friday afternoon, my class first heard the principal's announcement that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Being in Catholic school, we immediately began saying Hail Marys. Shortly after, came the announcement that the President had died, more prayers and my teacher, Sr. Mary Alphonse, saying that we would see this event in our history books.
President Kennedy's Administration made history with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the partial nuclear test ban treaty, the Peace Corps, civil rights and, of course, the reach for the Moon.
Like any historical figure, Kennedy was a complex person in turbulent times. We later learned of the extent of his medical problems and of his personal moral flaws. At the same time, he showed the leadership skills to inspire American citizens to aspire to public service either formally, by entering government, or by in whatever way asking "what you can do for your country".
The world was in a tense situation with the Cold War at that time. However the nation's recent experience in winning World War II, the post-war prosperity, the growing attention to civil rights for all Americans, and the dawning of the Space Age combined to generate a "can-do" spirit in society. This spirit of the time enabled JFK to ascend to leadership as much as his leadership helped further that spirit.
We can only speculate what would have occurred had there been no shooting in Dallas and JFK had completed one or two terms as president. In the tensions of our present day, may we not forget that crises can bring forth leadership that can find opportunities for accomplishment. May we never forget that our future as a nation and as human civilization depends on adhering to or recapturing the fundamental values of faith, life, liberty and human dignity that have enabled our advancement so far.
Finally, the sudden death of a young leader fifty years ago reminds us of the fleetingness and uncertainty of our temporal lives. May we be always mindful of the eternal things promised by God when our time of faithfully living each of our temporal lives comes to an end.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Meanwhile, the demonstration flight of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) launched on September 18 on an Antares rocket and successfully docked with the ISS where the crew unloaded cargo included on this demo mission and loaded trash no longer needed aboard the station. This week, Cygnus departed the ISS and reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up over the Pacific Ocean as planned. The successful mission clears the way for Orbital Sciences Corporation to carry out a contract for eight more cargo delivery missions to the ISS. Here is my amateur video of this launch. (I had to end the video as the rocket approached the Sun's glare.)
I was able to witness both launches in person. For the LADEE night launch, I stayed in Chincoteague, VA. For the Cygnus launch, my sister and I drove down from Ocean City, MD that morning (~1 hour drive) to watch the spectacular launch and were able to get back to Ocean City in time for a mid-afternoon bay cruise. Visiting the Wallops spaceport and watching a launch can be an exciting part of an Eastern Shore vacation.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass
Twelve years ago this, I overheard a coworker down the hall from my office telling someone else about planes hitting the World Trade Center. I checked in on the Internet and on news radio for reports on what would develop into the the modern era's day of infamy. We know of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but there was also the attack that did not occur because of the heroic actions of the passengers on United Flight 93.
Twelve years of daily living, along with increasing domestic rancor, may have dimmed the feelings of shock, horror, and outrage and the response of prayer, compassion, and resolve that united the people of America and most of the world. However, terrorist activity around the world should serve to remind us that the threat is still real.
This anniversary stirs abundant remembrance and reflection and many stirring pictorial and video items have appeared on the web and on Facebook. I still find this audio/visual Internet presentation developed by a New Yorker shortly after the attacks as one of the most powerful portrayals of those times. The sequence is ~15 minutes long and some of the images and sounds are quite disturbing, others are inspirational. (Use the browser View/Zoom function and adjust the scroll bar to enlarge the slide show.)
It is important that we remember, not only to honor those who died and those who acted heroically that day, but to remain constantly aware of the ongoing dangers, of the presence of real evil in the hearts of some people, and to maintain constant vigilance and a determination to defeat this evil. Finally, we must always remember to trust in God and his mercy during trying times. The story of the cross formed by two beams found among the ruins of the twin towers is recounted here.
While the number of casualties were much lower than in 2001, we should also remember that, one year ago, four Americans were killed by terrorists attacking the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya. We owe it to them and their families, as well as for the future security of our country, to hold our leaders accountable for whatever happened there, which still has not been sufficiently revealed.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The Antares rocket on its test launch to orbit on April 21, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
September along the Mid-Atlantic shore usually means smaller crowds and lower lodging rates even as the air and water temperatures still hold on to summer warmth. This September, however, history will be made on the Delmarva Peninsula as two historic launches take place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, VA. Wallops Island is situated within easy driving distance of millions of residents of Washington, DC, Baltimore and other east coast cities. The spaceport is located close to popular vacation destinations including Chincoteague, VA, known for its wild pony population, and Ocean City, MD, the popular family beach resort.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is scheduled to be launched on a Minotaur V rocket on Friday September 6 at 11:27 PM. The night launch will be visible for hundreds of miles from several states around the launch site (weather permitting).
LADEE will be the first spacecraft to be launched to the Moon (or anywhere else beyond Earth orbit) from Wallops Island. NASA describes LADEE as “a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.”
The LADEE liftoff may not be the last deep space launch from Wallops. A number of commercial ventures have plans to prospect and eventually mine resources of the Moon and the asteroids and might chose the Virginia launch site for some of their missions.
Around September 17, late morning, Orbital Sciences Corporation is scheduled to launch its first Cygnus spacecraft on its demonstration mission to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). If this mission is successful, Orbital will proceed to launch at least eight cargo missions to the ISS over the next several years (joining SpaceX, another company that launches its ISS cargo runs from Florida). The Cygnus cargo ship will be launched on Orbital’s new Antares rocket, which was successfully launched on its test launch in April. NASA has been seeking American companies to launch cargo, and eventually crewmembers, to the ISS to fill the role provided by the Space Shuttle program, which was retired two years ago.
These missions being launched from Wallops Island in September may be a harbinger of more activity to come. The Cygnus cargo launches are part of NASA’s strategy of acting more as a customer for commercial launch services to Earth orbit while it focuses on exploring more distant destinations.
However, these launches to the ISS are by no means dull. Some of the cargo going to the ISS includes experiments that will test new technologies in communications, propulsion, in-space refueling and servicing, etc. that will allow more bold future activities in space. Other experiments will have benefits here on Earth including observation of the Earth and its environment and groundbreaking research for the biotechnology industry that could improve peoples’ health and well-being. Also, small satellites called “CubeSats” built by students, researchers and industry frequently piggyback on these launches for a much lower cost than that of launching traditional larger satellites.
No launches of people are currently planned for Wallops, but as commercial space activity grows, that could change. The spaceport’s launch pads and runways could someday see crewmembers, researchers and tourists departing for and returning from space.
In the mean time, the growing space activity will benefit the Delmarva coast and the whole Mid-Atlantic region. High tech industry and jobs are growing around the launch site and tourism at the spaceport converges with that at the traditional nearby beach resorts. The spaceport will also provide nearby access to space for the government, industry and academic research institutions in the DC/Baltimore area and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region.
It is possible to participate in the excitement happening on the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast by including a visit to the Wallops spaceport as part of your shore vacation any time of year. Launches will be visible for hundreds of miles away under favorable conditions, but to really see, hear and feel the power of a launch into space, the best option is to come to the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast and witness it close up.
For more information on these upcoming launches, please check these links:
NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS)
Orbital Sciences Corporation
Lodging is available in Chincoteague, VA, Pocomoke, MD, Ocean City, MD and other nearby towns in Virginia and Maryland.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
The NewSpace conference, where cutting edge developments in the space industry will be discussed, is underway in San Jose, CA. For those of us who can't be there in person, the sessions are being streamed live. (Here is the agenda.)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Up to a million pilgrims are expected to join Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013 now occurring to energize the world's young people for Christ. (Despite the title, it is actually a several day event.)
Here is the official web site. WYD is also being covered by EWTN.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Today is the 44th 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.
Here is a tribute to Neil Armstrong, who took the first human steps on the Moon.
Today is also the tenth 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.