Friday, December 30, 2005

The Year in Passing

Another year has gone by with events happening faster than I can blog.

January brought humanity’s first (robotic) landfall on the mysterious world of Titan. President Bush’s Second Inaugural and the annual March for Life made for a busy time in Washington, DC.

March became the most heart-wrenching time when Terri Schindler-Schiavo was put to death by dehydration and starvation through judicial fiat despite the heroic efforts of her family, some courageous public officials and many concerned citizens. It remains to be seen whether this marks our plunge off the cliff into a culture of death or a galvanizing moment that will lead to a culture of life.

Terri’s death was followed two days later on April 2 by the passing of that great champion of the dignity of every human life, Pope John Paul II. It is no exaggeration to say that JPII’s service as the Vicar of Christ for over twenty-six years was the greatest influence of an individual on society during my lifetime and perhaps for much longer. Another strong and holy man, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was called to assume the papacy as Pope Benedict XVI to continue the work of leading the Church in the world.

April also brought a new administrator to NASA. Dr. Michael Griffin moved quickly to expedite the Vision for Space Exploration announced by President Bush in 2004.

The year’s best July Fourth fireworks occurred millions of miles from the good old USA when the Deep Impact spacecraft accomplished its encounter with Comet Tempel 1. Late July brought the Return To Flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery over two years after the Columbia catastrophe. The enhanced monitoring added to the Shuttle system proved its worth by showing that work was still needed to allow future flights to continue.

Fireworks of a different sort surrounded W’s nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judges and eventually Supreme Court justices. The nominations of John Roberts to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist and, after the bizarre turn of events surrounding the Harriet Miers nomination, and of Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra O’Connor brought out the howling-and-shrieking of the usual suspects. Of course, John Roberts is now Chief Justice and Samuel Alito’s hearings start a week into the new year.

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma made for the most devastating hurricane season in modern American history, causing images of extreme suffering and some official finger-pointing, but also brought about a tremendous outpouring of public support for relief efforts. The devastation left by these storms in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is far from being completely erased but resilient efforts are ongoing. Meanwhile, a devastating earthquake killed many thousands in Pakistan as other parts of South Asia still try to recover from last year’s tsunami.

The December elections in Iraq, following two preliminary votes earlier in the year, underscored the desire of Iraqis, like people everywhere, to live in peace and freedom. The domestic acrimony over the war goes on, even as underreported progress is being made toward Iraq determining its own future despite frantic terrorist acts. The sacrifices being made by American men and women in military service cannot be appreciated enough.

Underlying all of the controversies of the past year is the story of the Old Media ‘spinning’ out of control as the various New Media continue to change the landscape. While a healthy media skepticism is vital to keeping public officials accountable, the continuous distorted hyperventilating on alleged scandals in the Bush Administration and Congress, treatment of suspected terrorist prisoners, Katrina response, Valery Plame, NSA surveillance, etc., etc., etc. is only making the Old Media look ridiculous.

I believe that much of this Old Media frenzy is a sort of ‘proxy war’ for the ongoing cultural struggles over issues of life-and-death, sex, and religion. To use an analogy familiar from living in California for seventeen years, the pressure on the fault lines is building.

Meanwhile, with God’s providence, humans will continue to progress toward the stars and on many fronts close to home. Happy New Year and fasten your seatbelts for another wild ride in 2006.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hanukkah and Our Attitude about the Future

(This is a post I originally made in 2003 and feel is worth repeating, especially in light of ongoing developments that could lead to human expansion into space that would provide resources for future generations.)

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 have 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, December 23, 2005

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
NASA Authorization Passes

The legislation passed this week includes an endorsement of the Vision for Space Exploration, for prizes for space technology development, and for an expanded search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

Monday, December 19, 2005

Scrubbed Again

The launch of SpaceX's inaugural Falcon 1 rocket was postponed moments from launch because of a "structural issue" with a fuel tank. Launch is expected no earlier than late January.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraqis Vote for Freedom

The purple fingers rose in stronger numbers than ever as Iraq moves toward establishing a peaceful and free society.
"One of the most memorable things I saw were families, mothers and fathers taking their children to the polling stations. It was clear everyone knew what was at stake here and I think it was quite successful," USAID Mission Director Dawn Liberi told FOX News from Baghdad. "All the polls show Iraqis think democracy is the No. 1 priority for them … they want to get on with their lives, they don't want to be bombed, they don't want to be hostages to an insurgency."
Space Tourism Advances

Two developments were announced this week marking advances toward a space tourism industry. Virgin Galactic and the state of New Mexico have reached an agreement to fly suborbital flights out of the planned spaceport in that state.

Meanwhile, the Canadian company PlanetSpace has announced plans for an orbital passenger vehicle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Medical Advances

The National Cancer Institute is starting a pilot program to map the genetic makeup of cancer. This could speed the development of targeted cancer treatments with fewer side effects.

Also, scientists at the University of Louisville have announced the discovery of a certain kind of adult stem cell with the versatility attributed to embryonic stem cells, but without the ethical issues or potential side effects. So far, I haven't heard the Old Media breathlessly announcing this one as they would a supposed advance with embryonic stem cells.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Way Out of Town

I've returned from a vacation in Rome last week, traveling with my sister to visit our niece who is wrapping up a semester of study over there. We had quite exciting experiences including the Wednesday general audience with Pope Benedict, tours of the Vatican and other religious and cultural sites, and ventures to Florence and the mountain top town of Orvieto. And, of course, we enjoyed some great Italian food and wine.

Our trip from Philadelphia to Rome took about eight-and-a-half hours and return (against the jet stream) took about nine-and-a-half hours. Someday, that trip might be a lot faster. Congratulations to XCOR for taking a small but historic first step in that direction.