Friday, June 30, 2006

The Countdown Continues...

...for tomorrow's scheduled launch of the STS-21 mission of Space Shuttle Discovery, while the weather forecast remains doubtful. Follow developments at SpaceFlightNow's Mission Status Center and watch live video coverage on NASA TV.

Much is riding on this flight, which opens the final phase of the Space Shuttle Program. Our prayers are with you, STS-121 Crew.
Neutralizing the Word Games

Here's a great article on the what may be the most challenging frontier for the prolife movement, the topic of abortive contraception.
The truth is, it was the abortion rights and family planning movements that have been playing word games for the past few decades, and the pro-life movement is simply trying to correct the damage.

This decades old controversy revolves around the definition of a single word: conception.

The site No Room for Contraception is breaking ground on the whole topic of the impact of contraception on society.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Demythified

My friend Pete Backus, a leading scientist at the SETI Institute, describes three myths commonly held about SETI that don't correspond to reality. The common thread among the misconceptions is that people tend to think a much more extensive SETI search has been carried out than is actually the case. Thus any conclusion about the success or failure of this endeavor is quite premature.
More Info on WMDs?

Not surprisingly, the Old Media is playing down the story about the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq. The finding of these older, but still potentially very dangerous, chemical weapons doesn't provide conclusive evidence about the scope of the Iraqi weapons program at the time of the 2003 war. But the information disclosed last week was only a tiny portion of a larger pile of still classified documentation that could shed light on the WMD situation.

Michael Ledeen at NRO argues for releasing all of the documentation.
And we should demand they honor their calling, we should demand that the whole document be declassified and released, so that we can evaluate it ourselves, and decide how important it is or isn't. Because we know that the fourth branch isn't going to give us the facts, unless they fit their agenda.

Declassify the WMD document now. We'll tell you what it means.

And while you're at it, how about producing the other Iraq documents, the stuff from Saddam's files, that you promised to give us? We haven't seen much of that of late, have we? I wonder why...

I tend to agree, with the caveat that information that might allow still hidden WMDs to fall into terrorists' hands or endanger informants be withheld, as described in this Strategy Page article.
If the United States were to have announced WMD finds right away, it could have told terrorists (including those from al-Qaeda) where to look to locate chemical weapons. This would have placed troops at risk - for a marginal gain in public relations. A successful al-Qaeda chemical attack would have been a huge boost for their propaganda efforts as well, enabling them to get recruits and support (many people want to back a winner), and it would have caused a decline in American morale in Iraq and on the home front.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

So There Were No WMDs, Right?

Looks like another politically correct assumption is going down the drain. This developing story is breaking at Fox News and other sources tonight.
"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

While these weapons discussed in the declassified report are apparently degraded pre-1991 Gulf War weapons, they do raise a lot of questions about what we've been told is known about what was supposedly not found in Iraq.
The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions.

Hoekstra said the report, completed in April but only declassified now, shows that "there is still a lot about Iraq that we don't fully understand."

Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn't advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."

The official said the findings did raise questions about the years of weapons inspections that had not resulted in locating the fairly sizeable stash of chemical weapons. And he noted that it may say something about Hussein's intent and desire. The report does suggest that some of the weapons were likely put on the black market and may have been used outside Iraq.

He also said that the Defense Department statement shortly after the March 2003 invasion saying that "we had all known weapons facilities secured," has proven itself to be untrue.

"It turned out the whole country was an ammo dump," he said, adding that on more than one occasion, a conventional weapons site has been uncovered and chemical weapons have been discovered mixed within them.

I've seen other reports on reliable Internet sources over the past three years that caused me to doubt the sweeping assumption that there were no WMDs in Iraq. There may be more declassified information forthcoming, according to Senator Santorum and Rep. Hoekstra.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Go For Launch

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has announced that NASA is proceeding toward a launch of the next Space Shuttle mission, STS-121 on Saturday, July 1, even with the objections of the agency's chief engineer and safety office. The concerns center around the potential for debris falling from 'ice-frost ramps' on the Shuttle's External Tank which could damage the Orbiter. The rationale for the decision is explained in this somewhat lengthy article.

Griffin does base his decision on, among other things, the eventual redesign to the ice-frost ramps to mitigate the risk and the crew's ability to use the space station as a 'safe haven' in the event of damage to the Orbiter on ascent.
"So how do I justify that? With as much uncertainty as we have, I ... certainly would have to think harder about putting a crew on this vehicle if I thought they didn't have the space station safe haven option and the launch-on-need (rescue flight) option and for that matter, if push came to shove, to call up Russian Soyuz spacecraft for rescue. I do not see the situation we're in as being a crew-loss situation."

Just personally reading into this statement, but the status of the Hubble servicing mission, which will not have the space station 'safe haven' available, may depend on implementation of the eventual redesign.
Momentum Shift

Much has been written about the amazing recent turn of events. Two weeks ago, Democrats, much of the Old Media, and other political insiders were making cocky predictions about how the Republicans were doomed to defeat in an angry public tide demanding change. Columnist Tom Bevan points to the conjunction of events of the past two weeks that prove all bets are off.
For the first time in months the White House has gotten sustained positive news coverage out of Iraq, and Bush's poll numbers appear to be inching back upward. Democrats have been forced to stand in the president's shadow, offering meek criticisms that begin "Zarqawi's death is good news, but . . ." Suddenly, Democrats are back in the perilous position of trying to criticize the president without coming off looking like they're rooting for America to fail in Iraq.

Bottom Line: It's too soon for either side to proclaim victory and this will be another hard fought election campaign.
More from Stephen Hawking: Science and Religion

Physicist Stephen Hawking recalled a meeting he and other scientists had with Pope John Pull II at the Vatican, discussing the relation of science and religion.
Hawking said the pope told the scientists, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."

A probably more accurate description of the meaning of JPII's statement has been provided by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
"Here is what the Pope actually said: ‘Every scientific hypothesis about the origin of the world, such as the one that says that there is a basic atom from which the whole of the physical universe is derived, leaves unanswered the problem concerning the beginning of the universe. By itself science cannot resolve such a question.’ The Pope then quoted Pope Pius XII as saying, ‘We would wait in vain for an answer from the natural sciences which declare, on the contrary, that they honestly find themselves faced with an insoluble enigma.’

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When Stephen Hawking Talks, People Listen

Physicist Stephen Hawking says space settlement is required to ensure the survival of the human race in the event of natural or man-made catastrophe on Earth. While less well-known advocates of space settlement have been saying this for a long time, the Hawking announcement headlined the Drudge Report for much of the day, even with W in Iraq and Rove exonerated also happening today.

I would add that expansion into space is not only a way of ensuring the human race as a whole against extinction, but also a way of providing resources for future generations rather than fearing resource depletion from supposed 'overpopulation'.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Child Sees Through The Handwaving

With all of the issues that are being discussed at a frenzied intensity these days, Nat Hentoff zeroes in on what has really been the major crisis in our society these last thirty-plus years, and cites the wisdom of a child who saw past all the verbal and mental handwaving.
"But," said her son, "that means killing the baby." The mother then explained that there are certain months during which an abortion cannot be performed, with very few exceptions. The 9-year-old shook his head. "But," he said, "it doesn't matter what month. It still means killing the babies." Hearing the story, I wished it could be repeated to the justices of the Supreme Court, in the hope that at least five of them might act on this 9-year-old's clarity of thought and vision.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Week That Was

I got home late Friday/early Saturday from a week of payload safety training at Johnson Space Center. As usual, I'm a couple of days behind when a big story breaks. On the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, I'll cite a commentary from National Review Online for insight into the strategic and political implications.
The killing of Zarqawi and the completion of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government is a fortunate confluence that allows a new departure in Iraq. Zarqawi's killing will make the American public think progress is possible in a way that a recitation of optimistic statistics never will. The White House believes- correctly, in our view-that the portion of the American public that is persuadable on Iraq will listen to a message based on the argument that loss in Iraq will bring dire consequences, and that the U.S. is constantly adjusting based on conditions rather than mindlessly "staying the course." A redoubling of effort now could be sold in these terms, and it would be natural to couple it with the completion of Maliki's government.

And here is a report from on the vital role that space assets played in the operation to take out Zarqawi.

As a Christian, I have to pray that even such an evil man can find redemption from eternal damnation. However, in a lighter vein, I can't help speculating on what the appropriate form such a fate might be. Perhaps instead of enjoying eternity with seventy-two voluptuous virgins, it would be finding one's self stuck for eternity in the company of seventy-two clones of Hillary Clinton.