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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Citizens' Space Agenda

We conducted our training session today and this week space advocates will take to 'the Hill' in the annual ProSpace March Storm. Thirty volunteers will be visiting Congressional offices to advance an agenda of forming public policy to enable and expedite economic enterprise to expand our human presence in space. This year's objectives include:

- Using prizes to stimulate technological innovation in the
private sector while paying only for results and not effort;
- Using commercial space service providers to the maximum
extent possible;
- Creating a new public-private partnership between DOD
and the emerging space industry.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

SpaceX Announces a New Window

SpaceX has announced a new launch window for the inaugural launch of its Falcon 1 launch vehicle, March 20 through 25.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Goes to Supreme Court

I've italicized the name of the procedure that many Media sources refer to vaguely as 'a certain late term abortion procedure'. The Supreme Court today agreed to review the appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked enforcement of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003.

According to LifeNews.com, the outcome of the case could likely turn on the changed make-up of the Supreme Court that occurred within the past year with the Selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice and Samuel Alito as Associate Justice. Alito replaced the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, who cast the deciding vote overturning a Nebraska state law banning Partial Birth Abortion in 2000.
Responding to the 2000 Supreme Court decision, Congress included a lengthy findings section, detailing the hearings it held on partial-birth abortions, in hopes it would persuade the nation's top court that a health exception is unnecessary.

The findings section cites an American Medical Association convened to study the issue of partial-birth abortions. The expert panel "could not find 'any' identified circumstance" where partial-birth abortion "was 'the only appropriate alternative'" to preserve the health of the mother."

It also indicated partial-birth abortions may pose health risks for women. Such risks include cervical incompetence, trauma to the uterus, and lacerations or hemorrhaging.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Saddam Tapes

The unveiling of the tapes of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein discussing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was covered in a CNN web post on Saturday. The article included differing interpretations from various officials and experts and indicates much more information may be forthcoming.
The tapes, which were obtained by the U.S. government sometime after the invasion of Iraq, are part of about 35,000 additional boxes of material on Iraq's weapons programs and efforts, said an aide to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, who has reviewed the tapes.

The material is awaiting translation, the aide said, and the Bush administration is contemplating making all the material public for journalists and academics to translate and review.

Meanwhile, the FBI translator who originally interpreted the tapes says that ABC News reinterpreted the excerpts they broadcast last Wednesday night.
Tierney says, however, that what Saddam actually said was much more sinister. "He was discussing his intent to use chemical weapons against the United States and use proxies so it could not be traced back to Iraq," he told Hannity.

And national security expert and writer Ken Timmerman writes at NewsMax.com on what one former top Defense Department official says really happened to Iraq's WMDs.
"The short answer to the question of where the WMD Saddam bought from the Russians went was that they went to Syria and Lebanon," former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John. A. Shaw told an audience Saturday at a privately sponsored "Intelligence Summit" in Alexandria, Va.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Best of this Blog, etc.

Sometimes, I'll put a little more work into a post here, and get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing it at the top of this page. Then, of course, I stay current and blog again, meaning the favorite scrolls down and eventually off the page, to be found only in the archives. Occasionally, it's a special post that covers one of the major themes of this blog or, better yet, ties together two or more themes in a big picture view. (Yeah, I know some might say a 'flying leap'.) And the post will have an enduring timeliness beyond the events of the day.

So, I've introduced a feature called Best of this Blog near the top of the sidebar on the right. The first two posts to enter this 'hall of fame' are Why We March, my annual (slightly revised each year) essay I post around the time of the March for Life in January, and Most Precious Resource, the post from earlier this week that covers asteroid mining and the social implications of the frontier. I'll occasionally add others when I blog new posts that I feel deserve this enduring recognition, or discover old ones in the archives.

I've also added to and revised my links, including a few added blogs.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

This Could Be Really Big

Saddam tapes including WMD discussions to be released at Intelligence Summit Saturday.

Not sure this will happen without some last minute interruption. There is apparently a giant struggle within the intelligence community which in some ways reflects the larger social/political divide in American society.

ABC News actually aired brief excerpts of these tapes last night, but they and the rest of the Old Media continued to obsess with VP Dick Cheney's hunting accident. Let's see how much Saturday's revelations are communicated to the public. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Most Precious Resource of All


NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt.

Mark Sonter, an Australian mining expert, has been active for years in the space community pursuing the potential of extracting resources from the asteroids, which he explains in a column at Space.com. The author begins by stating the two reasons humanity has to be interested in asteroids, particularly those that follow paths that cross Earth's orbit around the sun.
The Near Earth Asteroids offer both threat and promise. They present the threat of planetary impact with regional or global disaster. And they also offer the promise of resources to support humanity's long-term prosperity on Earth, and our movement into space and the solar system.

The variety of resources available in these objects is presented.
Spectroscopic studies suggest, and 'ground-truth' chemical assays of meteorites confirm, that a wide range of resources are present in asteroids and comets, including nickel-iron metal, silicate minerals, semiconductor and platinum group metals, water, bituminous hydrocarbons, and trapped or frozen gases including carbon dioxide and ammonia.

As one startling pointer to the unexpected riches in asteroids, many stony and stony-iron meteorites contain Platinum Group Metals at grades of up to 100 ppm (or 100 grams per ton). Operating open pit platinum and gold mines in South Africa and elsewhere mine ores of grade 5 to 10 ppm, so grades of 10 to 20 times higher would be regarded as spectacular if available in quantity, on Earth.

Sonter goes on to explain the economics of asteroid mining and the fact that lowering the cost of getting into space is key to opening up this enormous new industry. The tremendous impact this industry can have on the lives of human beings is illustrated by this citation of another space resources expert.
Professor John Lewis has pointed out (in Mining the Sky) that the resources of the solar system (the most accessible of which being those in the NEAs) can permanently support in first-world comfort some quadrillion people. In other words, the resources of the solar system are essentially infinite... And they are there for us to use, to invest consciousness into the universe, no less. It's time for humankind to come out of its shell, and begin to grow!!

Note: a 'quadrillion' is a one followed by fifteen zeroes.

Professor Lewis, a noted planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, explains in a profound way the social significance of this potential frontier industry in his book when he says
The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is...to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all - human beings.

Let me make a personal observation here. This blog may seem to readers as an eclectic mix of seemingly unrelated topics. However, as I say up top, my goal is to tie together various themes in a big picture view.

The 'conventional wisdom' of the human future is often portrayed as a situation of limited and diminishing resources requiring 'population control' (and all its lethal implications) to prevent some kind of global catastrophe. This dismal view of the future is flawed on several levels.

For one, population control efforts are often coercive, especially on the world's poorest people, and often divert aid money that should be spent on providing food, clean water, and medicine. Also, even before space resources are considered, human resourcefulness in developing the resources of this planet and using them more efficiently make the population alarmists' case seem rather dubious.

However, many foresighted people see human expansion into space and development of the resources and energy there as the long term positive alternative to the more dismal agendas. Protecting and providing for future generations is the moral imperative behind our expansion into space. Part of a culture of life is to take the long view, to take risks on the frontiers to provide for the lives of future human beings, each of whom have a unique God-given dignity.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Winter Events

The Winter Olympics in Turin started Friday with the spectacular opening ceremonies.

Meanwhile, the unofficial snow shoveling event could involve millions of participants on Sunday. The venue, far from Turin, is the Middle Atlantic and New England states, where a 'nor'easter' is moving up the coast overnight. Forecasts tend to vary, but I'm hearing 5-8" here in the DC Area with more further up the coast, including blizzard conditions in parts of New York and New England.

UPDATE SUNDAY AM: Well, we got a little more, most places in the area getting well over 10", but the snow has stopped here, and radar shows the storm pulling away. Soon time to go and begin to dig out.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Out With A 'Big Bang'

Politically correct censorship these days most often occurs in the Old Media or in other circles supportive of left wing or so-called 'progressive' agendas. However, it can have negative consequences whichever side of the spectrum it come from.

A young public relations official assigned to NASA by the White House, George Deutsch, resigned this week following a controversy which surfaced in a New York Times article surrounding his restricting reporters' access to climate scientist James Hansen. Another episode involved Deutsch's alleged insistence that a web designer append every reference to the Big Bang with the word 'theory'.

Now I'll grant that I'm usually skeptical of any social/political controversy stirred up by the NYT. Never-the-less, I have heard that this is a real concern at NASA Goddard and other centers and in other federal science agencies, and that it goes beyond this one individual. Space.com describes the situation in this article.
Administrator Michael Griffin sent an e-mail to the agency's workers on Saturday in which he discussed scientific openness and the role of the agency's public affairs office.

“The job of the Office of Public Affairs, at every level in NASA, is to convey the work done at NASA to our stakeholders in an intelligible way,'' Griffin wrote. ``It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff.''

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Atrocity Thwarted

Actually, probably quite a number of terrorist attacks have been thwarted. President Bush spoke today and cited the disruption of a plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles in 2002.
As the West Coast plot shows, in the war on terror we face a relentless and determined enemy that operates in many nations -- so protecting our citizens requires unprecedented cooperation from many nations as well. It took the combined efforts of several countries to break up this plot. By working together, we took dangerous terrorists off the streets; by working together we stopped a catastrophic attack on our homeland.

Definitely a reminder that we cannot remain complacent or distracted by political rancor in these testing times.

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ProLife Organizing in Washington DC Area

Some prolife advocates in the DC Area met last weekend to step up the coordination of activities. The plans include taking advantage of Internet communication capabilities. More at ProLifeBlogs here.

I've added MarchTogether and Pro-Life Unity to the prolife links section of my sidebar.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

White House FY2007 Budget Request

The Administration's Fiscal Year 2007 budget request was released on Monday. As expected, increases were primarily in national and homeland security areas and science and education efforts related to the American Competitiveness Initiative announced in the State of the Union Address.

The proposed budget for NASA is just under $16.8B. Exploration Systems, particularly the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) received a big increase over last year's budget. Costs for maintaining the Space Shuttle and finishing the International Space Station have put pressure on the rest of the budget, causing some science and aeronautics programs to be deferred or cancelled. There is $150M in the budget to continue preparations for a Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, pending a safe Shuttle Return To Flight.

Jeff Foust provides reactions from several space organizations.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Church and Western Civ

One advantage of traveling out of town as I did a couple of weeks ago is that time in an airline seat allows for activities that are often hard to fit in otherwise, like actually reading a book. The book I read upsets the conventional wisdom of recent decades or, in fact, of the last two or three centuries.

How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr. Ph.D. is a revealing look at how the Catholic Church, through its principles and organization, provided the foundations for the progress we take for granted in our society today. The author provides numerous footnotes to source materials, so this work presents a real challenge to any would-be 'debunkers'.

Check out this TCRNews page for a review and Amazon link.
What Mr. Woods has deftly shown is that if anything, the opposite is true. Many of the principles that the Enlightenment promoted and that secular humanism embraces have actually been borrowed from Catholic thought! Far from being a threat to the concepts of equality, human dignity, peace, the advancement of science and other of the good concepts that secular thought cherishes, the Catholic Church is the very foundation on which these ideas are supported! Far from being a hindrance to the advancement of human culture, the Church was the only reason Western Civilization actually did advance at all! One shudders to think what would happen if Western culture did indeed altogether abandon its Catholic roots!

I think a big part of the issue is that the agenda pushed by politically correct forces today, including abortion, euthanasia, etc. is no longer compatible with the truly inclusive principles of human dignity espoused by the Church. Therefore, the myth of the Church as a regressive institution continues to be propagated today. Thankfully, Dr. Woods' work will be a powerful tool in setting the record straight.

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Two Media Items on the Future in Space

A stimulating discussion on the direction of future space activities was aired on NPR's Talk of the Nation/Science Friday this pat week. The show featured Tom Jones, planetary scientist and former astronaut; Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX; Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation; and George Whitesides, Executive Director of the National Space Society.

Unfortunately, the NPR affiliates in some major markets, including Washington, D.C., do not air the second hour of Science Friday, when this segment was featured. However, you can listen to it from the link at this NPR web page.

Meanwhile, Clark Lindsey has posted his speculative predictions on the next ten years in entrepreneurial space activity in his Commercial Stairway to Space v.2006.

While no projection of future events comes precisely to pass, these projections are a realistic speculation on what could happen based on enterprises currently underway. The next step in this direction could come as soon as this week if SpaceX succeeds in its inaugural Falcon 1 launch.

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Middle East Getting Crazier Than We Could Have Imagined

Time hasn't allowed me to keep up here with all the developments recently that threaten the peace of the world (Iran, Hamas, the anti-cartoon jihad, etc.). Victor Davis Hanson has a provocative commentary at NRO.
Ever since that seminal death sentence handed down to Salman Rushdie by the Iranian theocracy, the Western world has incrementally and insidiously accepted these laws of asymmetry. Perhaps due to what might legitimately be called the lunacy principle ("these people are capable of doing anything at anytime"), the Muslim Middle East can insist on one standard of behavior for itself and quite another for others. It asks nothing of its own people and everything of everyone else's, while expecting no serious repercussions in the age of political correctness, in which affluent and leisured Westerners are frantic to avoid any disruption in their rather sheltered lives.

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A Distant Thunder

At the March for Life convention the day before the March, I bought an intriguing DVD being sold in the exhibit area. A Distant Thunder is a compelling story that combines courtroom drama and supernatural suspense. More in this review at ProLifeBlogs.com.
The movie itself is designed to be a supernatural thriller with provocative symbolism and a suspenseful surprise ending. It unmasks the horror of partial-birth abortion in a gripping court room setting by recounting the procedural steps from a medical perspective. After identifying with the main character, it becomes difficult not to accept the personhood and humanity of the unborn and question the morality of all abortion.

The Floras set out to make a difference by using their theatrical expertise to penetrate, in a thought provoking manner, into the modern culture without sounding “preachy”. A Distant Thunder certainly accomplishes this task and, at 35 minutes in length, is an excellent tool for productive discussion with teenagers and adults.

Jonathan and Deborah Flora spoke at the Blogs for Life conference I attended on the morning of the March and I met them again briefly later in the day near the Supreme Court.

While the Hollywood establishment continues to attempt to indoctrinate a politically correct agenda on our society, as demonstrated by this year's Academy Awards nominations, it is refreshing to see some Hollywood professionals produce a high quality countercultural (by today's standards) work.

UPDATE: A friend has sent me a link to Fr. Frank Pavone's commentary on the movie.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

New House Majority Leader and 'Earmarks'

House Republicans chose a new Majority Leader, John Boehner, in a effort toward initiating reforms to move beyond recent congressional scandals.

One of the issues Mr. Boehner and the Congress will face is the question of 'earmarks', which now divert billions of dollars from federal agencies' primary missions toward projects designed to benefit individual congressional districts. The federal government is struggling with severe budget pressures, so it should be a priority to see that those dollars are spent on the purposes for which they were intended.

For just one example, the Fiscal Year 2006 NASA budget contains $321 million in earmarks. Now, some of these items probably do happen to contribute to NASA's core missions, and even serious reform probably won't end the practice of earmarks entirely. But suppose that $321 million could be focused on one or more of NASA's key efforts over 2 to 3 years. That amount of funding would probably cover a significant part of the cost of a final Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Or it could provide for one or more robotic missions to the Moon or elsewhere in the inner solar system. This amount of money could also accelerate NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Centennial Challenges efforts to stimulate commercial space activity in support of NASA's goals.

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