Tuesday, January 31, 2006

'My Friend Orion'


The words of Laurel Clark describing her reaction to seeing the well known winter constellation in an e-mail sent from the Space Shuttle Columbia three years ago today. Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the fatal re-entry that took the lives of Laurel Clark and her crewmates of the Columbia STS-107 mission.

One of these nights when the sky is clear, dress warmly and go out and look at the constellation of Orion. Think about those men and women from planet Earth who have begun our journey to the stars and those who will follow in order to provide resources and opportunities for future generations.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

This superbly qualified man was confirmed and sworn in today, despite all the hyperventilating and maneuvering by leading Democratic Senators, who continued to bow to pressure from the usual suspects (who are having conniptions. See here and here) in a futile effort to block the nomination.

Justice Alito's confirmation makes it a good day for W as he delivers his State of the Union address tonight. The White House State of the Union 2006 page is here.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger Twentieth Anniversary


The Palm Beach Post has an article with a link to a multimedia presentation, which includes a replay of the final countdown and launch which ended in tragedy.

Here is the poem quoted by President Reagan on national TV on that day.
High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

Friday, January 27, 2006

Planning the Future While Remembering the Past

I got back today from traveling to Houston for a meeting discussing safety issues for the (not yet official) final Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

I noticed that the flags at NASA and contractor facilities were at half-mast on Thursday. It was for NASA's Day of Remembrance for the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia astronauts. As a SPACE.com article says
Friday marks the beginning of a somber time of year for NASA, commemorating the first of three spaceflight disasters that have claimed the lives of 17 astronauts over the last 40 years.

On Jan. 27, 1967, three astronauts perished in a fire that consumed their Apollo 1 spacecraft while it sat atop its launch pad as NASA worked feverishly to send Americans to the Moon.

Saturday also marks the 20th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident. The orbiter was destroyed 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986 when rocket booster seal failed, leading to a subsequent fireball and the deaths of all seven astronauts aboard – including Christa McAuliffe, the first school teacher to launch spaceward.

NASA will also honor the seven STS-107 shuttle astronauts lost in the 2003 Columbia accident next week. The Columbia orbiter broke apart during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003 after a successful 16-day science mission. Wing damage sustained during launch by a chunk of fuel tank insulation was later cited as the accident cause.

These anniveraries are a reminder that there is always risk in spaceflight and safety is never to be taken for granted.
God Is Love

That's the English language title of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical which was released on Wednesday. From the Introduction:
We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

A papal document usually takes time to digest. Blogs that have posted comments, with more follow-up to come, include Open book, Thrown Back, and The Revolution (a sister Blog for Life).

Monday, January 23, 2006

The People Speak Truth To Power

It's been an awesome couple of days with the events surrounding the March For Life. I attended Sunday afternoon's final convention session, which was capped by St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke's powerful discussion of natural law and civic life. Last evening was the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with a packed congregation. I talked with people from South Carolina, Connecticut, Minnesota, etc.

This morning I attended the Blogs for Life conference, meeting several bright and nice bloggers including La Shawn Barber, The Revolution, Tim of ProLife Blogs, realitycheck(dot)ie (all the way from Ireland!), Irish Law (as in Notre Dame), Pro-Life With Christ, The Stem Cell Extremist, plus a journalist and a student writer. My regrets to anyone I've overlooked and to the other fine bloggers in the room I did not get to talk with.

The Rally on the Mall included many fine speakers highlighted by a call from Kansas by President Bush. Nobody officially counts crowd numbers in DC anymore, but looking back from Capitol Hill during the March to the crowds filling Constitution Avenue many blocks distant, I can only guess the number was well over the standard 100,000 figure. Others I've talked to feel the same way.

After a short drop in at my pro-abortion congressman's office, I stopped by the Susan B. Anthony List reception, and could have stayed longer had I known that the RNC reception was closed due to overcapacity attendance.

Enroute to the Metro, my final stop was a particularly powerful event at the Supreme Court where women grievously hurt by their abortion experiences declared that they are Silent No More.

I really feel the peaceful strength of this movement is making history as did the Polish Solidarity movement and the 'People Power' movement in the Philippines, to name just two recent examples. We don't just do this March to complain about the status quo. We're in it to win, to restore the recognition of the God-given rights of every human being.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why We March

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

Sunday, January 22, marks the 33rd 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 on Monday for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn more than 100,000 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.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, has since changed his mind and heart and is now 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 forty five 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 I guess Dan Rather, Katie Couric, 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. Abortion has torn marriages and families apart, and led to a hardened and increasingly violent culture.

So, we have had for the past thirty 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 thirty 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 played a decisive role in the 2004 Election results and in the confirmation hearings of John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court.

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 college students, 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 speaking their minds, Getting 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.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Epic Journey Begins


The New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond was successfully launched today from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft was injected into a faster trajectory than any previous spacecraft launched from Earth. With an additional gravitational assist from a flyby of Jupiter in early 2007, New Horizons will reach Pluto in July 2015. From there the craft will continue to journey in the outer solar system to investigate one or more of the recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects. Considering the rate of recent discoveries, New Horizons may have a lengthening choice of targets to explore.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another Scrub

I didn't realize that the storm passing through this area this morning would have interplanetary consequences until I found out that the New Horizons launch was scrubbed again due to a power outage affecting the control center at the Applied Physics Lab.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Moving Into The Fast Lane

I've had three excuses for my modest rate of blogging: a day job, slow typing fingers, and a dial-up modem. Well, the first two are still valid, but, as of yesterday, I'm online with Verizon's fiber-optic (FiOs) service.

I'm still learning features of the service and working through a few glitches, however I'm enjoying the advantages of faster opening web pages and higher quality streaming video. Now, I can watch decent webcasts of favorite sources such as EWTN and NASA TV at times when they are not provided by the local Comcast cable service.
No Launch Today

The New Horizons launch to Pluto and beyond was scrubbed for 24 hours due to high winds.
Not Good For The Most Vulnerable

There are valid arguments on both sides of the federal-vs.-state power issues in today's Supreme Court ruling permitting federally controlled drugs to be used for assisted suicide in Oregon. However, disability rights activists point out the danger in the assisted suicide issue underlying this ruling.
Life with a disability is so devalued, society is so bigoted against the idea that life with a severe disability can have quality, that in such a climate the "right to die" becomes a "duty to die." Activists fear that people who become disabled will choose suicide over living with disability. They fear that people whose disabilities make them burdens on family members will be pressured -- subtly or not so subtly -- to end their lives.

If there is a glimmer of hope in this situation, it is that today's ruling did not impose a Roe v. Wade -like 'right' to assisted suicide. Thus those who value the dignity of every human life are fully empowered to oppose assisted suicide through the legislative process at state and federal levels.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust Comes Down To Earth

NASA's Stardust spacecraft' return capsule touched down early this morning in the Utah desert. The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, was launched in 1999 and intercepted Comet Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt 2”) in January 2004 when it collected samples of cometary dust which may hold clues to the development of the solar system.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Enough, Already!

Samuel Alito has handled himself skillfully and gracefully during this week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The scene of Mrs. Alito in tears has probably sealed the human element of these hearings in Judge Alito's favor.

The line of attack taken by the Dems, including Princeton, Vanguard, etc. shows a desperation that they are losing control over our nation's future. Of course, the driving issue is abortion and I wonder how long the Dems will continue to drive off the cliff at the behest of NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the other usual suspects.

For years, Teddy Kennedy, Chucky Schumer, and DiFi have been defining the 'mainstream' to exclude anyone who dares to challenge their so-called 'progressive' and 'enlightened' social policies, and it's refreshing to see their influence diminishing in today's political dynamic. Much of the credit for this shift in politics goes to the diversification of information sources that challenge the politically correct conventional 'wisdom' of the Old Media. One of the alternate sources that is particularly informative during judicial confirmation hearings is National Review Online's Bench Memos.
Faith at the Launch Pad

The Soviet space program was once considered a soaring symbol of the communist atheistic philosophy. However, Jim Oberg writes on how Faith in God is now freely celebrated at the Kazakhstan launch site for Russia's space ventures.
But in a radical cultural revolution, the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991 unleashed a long-underground religious impulse even among the elite of Soviet society, "rocket scientists" and the military hierarchy.

Within months of communism's fall, a small Russian Orthodox church was organized at the space center in an abandoned sporting goods store. A young Russian priest came to town, held religious services and at the request of officials began blessing rockets and space crews. Cosmonauts began carrying traditional Russian icons into orbit.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Future of Civilization

Mark Steyn has generated quite a buzz around the 'Net with his provocative article on the future of what we know as 'Western Civilization'. The somewhat lengthy article ties in a number of topics but its underlying theme is concisely stated in its title; It's the Demography, Stupid.
As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"--as can be seen throughout much of "the Western world" right now. The progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb.
Space Organization News

Major developments for two space organizations I'm involved with:

March Storm 2006
ProSpace has announced its annual March Storm for 2006 on Capitol Hill to promote a real economic frontier in space. This citizen lobbying campaign actually begins in late February this year.

If you are prospace and want to have a positive influence on space policy, this is a tremendous opportunity. Do plan to join us. I've posted the linked March Storm banner on the right-hand column.

SSI Lives!
The Space Studies Institute (SSI), founded by the late Professor Gerard K. O'Neill to enable the development of human settlement in space, has revamped and updated its long dormant web site. The site includes a new feature called SSI Update and also states that SSI will help organize a Space Settlement Summit at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in LA in May.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Blogs for Life Conference

Prolife bloggers will gather on the morning of the annual March for Life in Washington, DC at the first annual Blogs for Life Conference to network and learn from each other. The keynote message will be delivered by the legendary Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online.

If you are prolife and a blogger or even just interested in or curious about blogging, this is a tremendous opportunity. I've signed up and I've posted the linked conference banner on the right-hand column.
Off and Running

Only a few days into the new year and so much news. The West Virginia mining tragedy and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's health situation call for our prayers. The Abramoff scandal and the upcoming Alito nomination hearings will continue to have the nation's attention.