Friday, April 27, 2007

Stephen Hawking Soars Beyond Disability

Famed Physicist Stephen Hawking got to experience weightlessness yesterday during a flight provided by Zero Gravity Corp. Dr. Hawking is paralyzed by the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which normally has him confined to a wheelchair and using a computer generated speech system.

The famous scientist hopes to make a more challenging suborbital spaceflight when that opportunity becomes available in two or three years. Alan Boyle elaborates on the significance of Hawking's flight and his belief in the importance of expediting human expansion into space.
On another level, Hawking spent the most time during his preflight interview with NBC News talking about how the space effort needed to engage "the entrepreneurial engine that has reduced the cost of everything from airline tickets to personal computers." Only then, he said, could the cost of space travel fall to the point that we could start thinking about expanding our living space beyond Earth, as an insurance policy in case the unthinkable happened on our home planet.

Meanwhile, Taylor Dinerman writes in the Wall Street Journal that access to the weightless environment for the disabled might itself be a major benefit of the coming space enterprise.

There's another aspect to this story. An idea held by some in our society is that someone with a severe disability like Hawking does not have an adequate 'quality of life' to justify protecting and sustaining that life. Stephen Hawking demonstrates the foolishness of that notion by pursuing a dream and continuing to contribute to society. For more on protecting the lives and dignity of the disabled, check out Not Dead Yet and the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Spaceport Rocks!

My photo of the launch (~3 miles from pad) and a more high fidelity NASA image.

Just got back this afternoon from Chincoteague. The Minotaur/NFIRE launch at 2:48 AM this morning was spectacular. A ground system problem caused a one-day slip from early Monday morning. I planned a two night stay just to cover that eventuality and to have more time to explore the Chincoteague area and eat some good seafood.

For more details on the launch and the NFIRE satellite's mission to collect research data for missile defense, see this article. This second Minotaur launch may be just a preview of more ambitious activities to come at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS).

A local hotel appreciates the spaceport business while some of the area's most famous residents seem blase about the exciting space ventures occurring nearby.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Out to Launch

I'm off to Chincoteague, VA for the launch of a Minotaur Rocket carrying the NFIRE experimental satellite. All is 'GO' for launch early Monday morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Victory for Life!!

The Supreme Court today upheld the federal ban on partial birth abortion. While this procedure represents only a small fraction of the total number of abortions, I believe that this ruling is significant. Seemingly modest reforms preceded the rapidly accelerating unraveling of the Soviet empire two decades ago. Expect a frantic counter-reaction by the cultural forces supporting abortion-on-demand, but let's pray and work for the day when every human life is protected.

Look for more reports and reaction at and Pro-Life Blogs.
An Act of Heroism

In every horrific event, we always hear of courageous acts by individuals which prevent even more deaths from occurring. At Virginia Tech on Monday, the actions of Professor Liviu Librescu, a 76 year-old Holocaust survivor who gave his life allowing several of his students to escape, stands out.

Mark Steyn and James Bowman wonder why this kind of heroic action is so rare. I don't know whether any of the others at Virginia Tech missed specific opportunities to thwart the maniacal killer, but these writers do raise a good question as to whether our western societies are ingraining passivity into their citizens, rather than encouraging heroic virtue like that of Professor Librescu and the passengers of United Flight 93.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Horrific Tragedy

The death toll of thirty-three human lives in today's Virginia Tech shooting massacre once again leaves people asking questions and groping for solutions. No doubt, there will be calls for more legislation of guns, etc. and more regimentation in student life. The real need is to go deeper into the conflicts in the human heart and not be afraid to seek spiritual solutions.

May Our Lord have mercy on the dead and injured, their families and friends, and on our society.
Space Race

While Charles Simonyi continues to enjoy his trip as a paying customer staying at the international Space Station (ISS), his 'station-mate' Sunita Williams completed her participation in the Boston Marathon, far above the wind and rain that dogged the thousands of other participants.

Meanwhile, one final note on Yuri's Night. Keith Cowing describes his experience at the Yuri's Night celebration at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA and what it may mean for a changing relationship between the space community and society at large.
Yes the music was good, the lights and exhibits stimulating, and the crowd mellow and enthusiastic. But there was something more than sensual comfort operating.

There was an emergent property to all of this. I guess it at least had something to do with space exploration. But in many ways it was also about the future - the future of the future - and what it will be like to live there. In ever-increasing ways, our world is now poised on the cusp of what is and what will be. How that future is shaped is rushing at us at ever-increasing speed - and we all have our foot on the gas pedal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

When the Vodka-and-Tang is served,... must be Yuri's Night! That's tomorrow. Yuri's night is celebrated around (and off) the planet to mark the anniversaries of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering orbital flight (1961) and of the first launch of the Space Shuttle (1981). (I'm planning to go to the DC event tomorrow night.)

UPDATE 4/12: Alan Boyle writes about today's Yuri's Night festivities.
John McCain v. Conventional Wisdom

Senator John McCain spoke today (Hat Tip: NRO) at the Virginia Military Institute, urging perseverance with the new strategy in Iraq.
These and other indicators of progress are encouraging, but they are not determinative. I understand the damage false optimism does to public patience and support. I learned long ago to be skeptical of official reports that are long on wishful thinking and short on substance. As we make progress in some areas, the enemy strikes where we do not have as great a presence. But security in the capital is indispensable to a greater level of security throughout the country so that political and economic progress can occur. And in Baghdad we are making progress. We have a long way to go, but for the first time in four years, we have a strategy that deals with how things really are in Iraq and not how we wish them to be.

Senator McCain says it right. In hindsight, the war was badly mismanaged in the last four years, but the clock was reset with the implementation of the new strategy in January. And the consequences of giving up prematurely are frighteningly ominous.
Stem Cell Vote Update

The US Senate today voted to pass both the bill funding embryonic (embryo destroying) research (but just shy of the margin required to override W's veto) and the bill funding ethical alternative research. Here are the roll call votes on the embryonic bill (S.5)and the ethical alternative bill (S.30).

Kudos to Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the only two Democrats to vote against S.5, the embryonic stem cell bill.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Space Enterprise Rising

While US billionaire entrepreneur Charles Simonyi has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) with the Expedition 15 crew as a paying customer (i.e. space tourist), a couple of announcements today indicate more dramatic space business enterprise to come in the coming years.

Robert Bigelow has announced his ambitious business plan for his inflatable habitats in orbit and beyond. Meanwhile, SpaceDev has announced plans to collaborate with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to study launch of its Dream Chaser reusable vehicle on the Atlas V booster. The space business world is getting more interesting all the time.
Senate Debates Stem Cell Bills

The US Senate today began debate on bills setting the direction on funding for stem cell research, with votes set for tomorrow. President Bush has already promised a veto of the bill supporting research that would fund the destruction of human embryos, while saying he would support ethical and effective stem cell research.

Some additional good news: one Democratic senator appears to be following in the path of his late, great father, according to this report.
"I have listened carefully, especially to those whose loved ones are suffering from serious diseases and disabilities and who disagree with my position," Casey said. "I deeply respect their views and hope they can come to understand mine."

Casey's position counters that of his Republican colleague, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who has been one of the Senate's most vocal supporters of embryonic stem cell research.
Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent for 2007

The Maryland General Assembly has ended its 2007 session (none to soon). Here is a review from the Gazette newspaper and one from the Baltimore Sun. The articles note that some big issues, including the projected budget gap, were punted 'til next year.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Have a Blessed and Happy Easter and Passover!

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Lk 24:1-12

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"God comes to the rescue of our humanity"

George Weigel writes on the meaning of the Easter Triduum, which started this evening of Holy Thursday.
The calendar pages turn, Lent unfolds — and once again, God comes to the rescue of our humanity. That is what we remember, ponder, and celebrate each year in the great Easter Triduum: the astonishing good news that the Creator of the universe entered his creation, in the person of his son, in order to redirect the story back to its proper end, which is eternal life within the light and love of the Blessed Trinity. That’s a rescue story for the ages.

Weigel puts the headlines of our age in the context of this message of hope.
The irrationality of the early twenty-first century is not only the irrationality of murder-in-the-name-of-God, however; it is also the irrationality of the radical skeptic, who insists that human beings can never know the truth of anything with surety. Corrosive skepticism is eating away at the cultural vitals of Europe, the continent that gave the world the very idea of reason; corrosive skepticism is not unknown in America, which is Europe transplanted. At this moment in history, confronted on the one side by irrational faith and on the other by a profound loss of faith in reason, the Church, Benedict XVI insists, must “make more room for rationality.”
For Spaceports, the 'Aye's Have It!

The Virginia Legislature, with the support of Governor Tim Kaine, has enacted legislation clarifying the liability regime for commercial human space travel, along with other supporting legislation for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island.

Meanwhile, it appears late today from provisional ballot counting that voters in Dona Ana County, New Mexico have narrowly passed a tax measure supporting the development of Spaceport America, that state's effort to take a leading role in the growing commercial human space travel industry.

The future is real, and may be coming to a spaceport near you.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Remembering Pope John Paul II

Today is the second anniversary of the great Pope's passing to eternal life. JPII was known for his courageous advocacy of the defense of human life. Here is his Vatican web page of links.

A book I've just read, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister describes how JPII along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher interacted to help bring about the end of the Cold War in freedom's favor.
Energy Savings Time - Not!

Apparently, the move to daylight savings time we made three weeks earlier was pretty much a draw in terms of energy savings, according to this Reuters report.
The move to turn the clocks forward by an hour on March 11 rather than the usual early April date was mandated by the U.S. government as an energy-saving effort.

But other than forcing millions of drowsy American workers and school children into the dark, wintry weather three weeks early, the move appears to have had little impact on power usage.

Actually I had my doubts about this measure when Congress was passing it two years year.