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Saturday, December 30, 2006

What a Trip 2006 has Been

Yes, 2006 has been a wild ride. The ongoing conflicts in the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to rage, while at least one massive terror attack, planned for August, was foiled in Britain as part of the ongoing global fight for civilization.

The Iraq war cast a long shadow over domestic politics, with the Democrats taking control of the House and, by the slimmest of margins, the Senate. As part of the grassroots campaign in Maryland, even though my guys didn't win, I'm proud to have participated with a great team in the electoral process. The consequences of the national election outcome will really begin to play out in 2007.

Energy prices seemed to be on a yo-yo throughout the year and real-estate seemed to be slowing down from a frenzied pace while the overall economy continued to show healthy growth.

Science, technology and medicine continued to advance on many fronts, while serious ethical issues such as use of human embryonic stem cells remained in contention.

Tantalizing developments relating to human expansion into space occurred this year. The Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) efforts got back on track and a go-ahead was given for one more Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 2008. The launch of Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 1 inflatable test satellite and the inspiring flight of Anousheh Ansari highlighted new commercial advances into space as NASA turned its future plans more to the Moon and beyond. Evidence of water from the surface of Mars to the Saturnian moon Enceladus hints at the trail life may follow to the stars.

The saga of life on Earth played out in the final week of 2006 as America pays its last respects to a gentle man who served as President at a time of crisis, while Iraq's cruel deposed tyrant met his fate at the hands of his own nation's justice system.

This year more than most seemed to remind one of the Grateful Dead's line, "What a long, strange trip it's been." May God's blessings be upon you and all of us as we enter the adventure known as 2007.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)


Gerald Ford is sworn in as President on August 9, 1974, Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library

Former President Gerald Ford, who led the nation out of the turbulent Watergate period, died last night at age 93. I was in my college years in the mid-seventies and I recall President Ford's central role in the history of that time.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

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

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Home for the Holidays

After successfully accomplishing a mission critical to completing assembly of the International Space Station (ISS), the Shuttle Discovery STS-116 crew (with one ISS crew member swap) landed safely today at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

MARS is Open for Business


NASA

A sunrise launch this morning of a Minotaur rocket carrying two satellites inaugurated operations at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Island facility on the Virginia coast. Growing operations at this spaceport, which may include space station resupply launches and suborbital tourist flights along with small to medium sized satellite launches, could be a boost to the Eastern Shore's economy and to the space industry of the whole Mid-Atlantic region.

I drove down late Friday afternoon and stayed overnight in nearby Pocomoke City, MD, rising early this morning to go out to the public viewing area on Assateague Island, a few miles from the launch site. The rocket was visible as a rising tongue of white flame with a trailing smoke plume which started to curl as the rocket arced high overhead and shed its first stage. One of the most impressive aspects of viewing a launch from a few miles away is how you hear no sound from the rising rocket for a number of seconds before the roaring sound reaches your location. The crowd gathered at the sandy beach site expressed awe and approval as the successful launch took place. This Virginian-Pilot article includes images from the Assateague Island viewing site.

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Hanukkah and Our Attitude about the Future

(This is a post I originally made in 2003 and feel is worth repeating each year, 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.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Discovery Night Launch


NASA

The Space Shuttle Discovery lit up the skies over central Florida tonight when it lifted off on the STS-116 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The SpaceflightNow.com article describes the importance of this mission for the continued assembly of ISS.
Station construction has now reached the point where an interim power system, designed to support the station during its initial assembly, needs to be phased out. With the installation of new solar arrays in September, NASA is finally ready to activate the lab's permanent power grid, a major step that sets the stage for attachment of European and Japanese research modules.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

War Then and Now

With intense interest over this week's release of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, National Review Online commentators weigh in, and Victor Davis Hanson compares our nation's response to today's world threat to the response to the attack on Pearl Harbor 65 years ago today.
The limitations on our war-making are just as often self-imposed. Yes, we defeated the Axis powers in less than four years, but it was at a ghastly cost. To defeat both Japan and Germany, we averaged over 8,000 Americans lost every month of the war - compared to around 50 per month since Sept. 11.

So far the United States has encouraged its citizens to shop rather than sacrifice. The subtext is that we can defeat the terrorists and their autocratic sponsors with just a fraction of our available manpower - ensuring no real disruption in our lifestyles. That certainly wasn't the case with the Depression-era generation who fought World War II.

While I've only had time to read the ISG Executive Summary, I tend to think it is a mix of constructive and dubious recommendations and should be considered in combination with other sources, particularly our military, in reworking our strategy for Iraq in the context of the global situation.

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Launch Scrub


Tonight's planned launch of the Shuttle Discovery on the STS-116 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been postponed due to weather. The weather does not look good the next few days, so the rescheduled launch date is TBD.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wet Mars?


A new gully deposit in a crater in the Centauri Montes Region.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

NASA today announced that spacecraft imagery shows evidence that liquid water emerges on the surface of Mars before quickly evaporating or freezing.
Liquid water, as opposed to the water ice and water vapor known to exist at Mars, is considered necessary for life. The new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars. The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor provided the new evidence of the deposits in images taken in 2004 and 2005.

UPDATE 12/7/06: SpaceToday.net links to several news stories about this significant announcement, and famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury tells Fox News of his excitment about the Mars discovery and about NASA's lunar outpost plans.
For decades, Bradbury has woven colorful science-fiction tales about people traveling to and living on Mars, many of them collected in his 1950 book "The Martian Chronicles."

His vivid descriptions of the planet have brought it to life for millions of readers, and he has long believed the stuff of his imagination would one day become reality.

"We're going to bring our life to Mars," he said. "We will be the Martians, and that's our future. I wish I were going to be alive the day we land on Mars and become the Martians."

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Strategy and Architecture for a Grand Vision

NASA yesterday announced a 'global strategy' and a 'lunar architecture' to define why we are going back to the Moon, what we will do there, and how we will do it.
The Global Exploration Strategy focuses on two overarching issues: Why we are returning to the moon and what we plan to do when we get there. The strategy includes a comprehensive set of the reasons for embarking upon human and robotic exploration of the moon. NASA's proposed lunar architecture focuses on a third issue: How humans might accomplish the mission of exploring the moon.

More on the 'how' we explore the Moon.
NASA's Lunar Architecture Team, chartered in May 2006, concluded that the most advantageous approach is to develop a solar-powered lunar base and to locate it near one of the poles of the moon. With such an outpost, NASA can learn to use the Moon's natural resources to live off the land, make preparations for a journey to Mars, conduct a wide range of scientific investigations and encourage international participation.

SpaceToday.net has several links to reports on the announcement.

This post at HobbySpace.com links to several sources in the space community debating some of the specifics in NASA's architecture, particularly the launch systems. While there are differences over the details, what is shared is a vision of humans expanding into and settling in space. The National Space Society provides background on the vision of human space settlement.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Catholic Science Fiction

I've recently been contacted by Karina Fabian, an author who writes science fiction which weaves in Catholic themes. For example, picture an order of nuns who live in space and perform search and rescue missions. Karina and her husband Rob are publishing an anthology of Catholic science fiction called Infinite Space, Infinite God. She also has a blog, FabianSpace.com.

I've been giving thought to the Church's role in the expanding frontier, and I believe this kind of literature is a tremendous way to explore this topic. I've only begun to explore these two fascinating sites. (I've also added the links to my sidebar.) I recommend you check them out too.

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