Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, RIP

He was conservative before conservative was cool. In fact, he helped to make conservative cool. Yesterday morning, it was announced that William F. Buckley, the articulate commentator who energized modern conservative political thought, had passed away at age 82. Many tributes are being collected at the on-line site of the magazine he founded, National Review. WFB went beyond politics to be an articulate spokesman for his strong Catholic Faith. May his example inspire us who share his beliefs to carry on the fight with the same class and cheerfulness.

NASA's Latest COTS Award

NASA last week awarded Orbital Sciences Corporation funding for the demonstration of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) proposal for resupplying the International Space Station.

What is particularly exciting about this development is that Orbital plans to conduct its Taurus II launches for this project from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. It will be exciting to take the three-hour drive down to watch these larger rockets liftoff, as I did for the two Minotaur launches in 2006 and last year.

Also last week, Wallops received a boost from passage of Virginia's "Zero-G/Zero-Tax" bill designed to spur new space industries in the state.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Atlantis Comes Home

Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth this morning after delivering the Columbus laboratory module to the International Space Station. Atlantis will next fly later this year to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wayward Satellite Targeted

The US Government has announced plans to 'shoot down' a spy satellite in a decaying orbit to mitigate safety and security risks posed by surviving debris.

Rand Simberg points out that more robust space capabilities would allow for more elegant solutions to this type of problem.

'Chesapeake Primary' on Ice

Tuesday's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and DC, which drew high voter turnout despite a nasty ice storm in the afternoon and evening, gave boosts to John McCain and Barack Obama.

Also of interest were two Maryland congressional races where incumbents, one Democrat and one Republican, were turned out by challengers more liberal and conservative respectively. This appears to indicate the strong roles the base of each party play in determining candidates and party direction.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on Evolution

The Catholic Times (of the diocese of Springfield, Illinois) has an interesting article explaining how Pope Benedict XVI separates the validity of the science of evolution from the philosophical debate raging between some of its advocates and critics.
Pope Benedict has weighed in several times on evolution, essentially endorsing it as the "how" of creation but cautioning that evolutionary theory cannot exclude a divine cause.

And yet, many people are under the vague impression that this pope has rejected evolution, or is getting ready to, or has serious objections to the science involved.

It probably doesn't help that the pope has shown a fondness for the phrase "intelligent design." He uses it to describe the idea that, whatever the biological processes involved, the natural world as a whole appears to witness to a divine creator.

That's not the same as the concept of a designer God intervening at particular points in natural development, however.

Lest there be any doubt about Pope Benedict's views, the academy has prefaced its booklet with a lengthy papal quotation from last July.

"I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called ‘creationism' and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: Those who believe in the creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God," the pope said.

"This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?" he said.

Political Assessment

The past few days have seen a frenzy of developments in the presidential race. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue an amazingly close race which will no doubt keep the suspense going and creates some interesting challenges for the Democratic Party, which prides itself on its identity politics.

John McCain has emerged as a clear leader in the Republican race with Mike Huckabee emerging as the strongest alternative. McCain's lead has caused some restlesness among some conservative media and intellectual leaders, given the Arizona senator's record of positions on various issues ranging from traditional conservative to moderate and sometimes liberal, and his sometimes cantankerous way of expressing those positions. Other conservative leaders point out, even with their disagreements with him, that McCain is a far superior alternative to either of the Democratic contenders. (Not surprisingly, some media reports are sensationalizing this controversy.)

I see a period of 'courtship' where McCain is trying to win over enough conservative supporters to support his campaign and provide a margin of victory in November. There will have to be some give and take, with McCain explaining where he has a largely conservative record, explaining honestly where he differs, and showing respect for those who differ with him (as he did at CPAC last week). Assuming McCain is the nominee, it's also up to conservatives to join in the give and take and consider where they share common ground with him.

It is appropriate for Republican voters in the remaining primary and caucus states who not totally satisfied with John McCain to vote for Huckabee or another alternative. For one thing, the race isn't over yet, and this year has certainly had its surprises. Also, it does give a voice to those concerns that John McCain will have to address assuming he is the nominee.

I see the stakes as too high to sit out the election or even vote for the Democrat as a way of protesting Senator McCain's shortcomings. Perfect can be the enemy of the good, especially taking into consideration the likely agendas of a Clinton or Obama administration. Allowing a defeat this year and expecting or hoping for a comeback in 2012 is not acceptable, given the national security situation and the likelyhood of one or more Supreme Court vacancies in the next four years.

One of the most compelling statements I've read about this situation is this article on ProLife Blogs, focusing on the primacy of protecting human life. (I'm not sure if the aricle is correct in including Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity among those vowing never to vote for McCain.)
So, c'mon, Ann and Rush and Sean and Dr. Dobson. Let's feel free to criticize John McCain for his blunders (and, yes, they are many) and let's do what we can to require him to fill his cabinet with more consistent conservatives. But, goodness gracious, let's not help win the Oval Office, the State Department and the all-important Supreme Court for those who will not only deny all restrictions and regulations of abortion here at home but will promote it as "health services and population control" around the world.

Adding a New Room

The Shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station (ISS) crews have successfully attached the Columbus laboratory module to the ISS, opening the way for a new phase of research aboard the station.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Columbus Sails on Atlantis


At last, the Shuttle Atlantis lifted off into space today carrying the European Columbus laboratory module to the International Space Station.
Running two months late, the repaired shuttle Atlantis thundered safely into orbit today after expected storms from a weakening cold front failed to materialize. The low-level hydrogen fuel sensor circuits that derailed two launch tries in December worked normally today, clearing the way for launch of Atlantis and a European Space Agency research module bound for the international space station.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday and here is Catholic Online's Welcome to Lent 2008 feature. Here's a report on Pope Benedict's comments today and the US Catholic Bishops' Lenten web site.
"The call to conversion is, then, an encouragement to return to the arms of God the tender and merciful Father." Pope Benedict XVI

Super Tuesday

The 'Super Tuesday' primaries and caucuses have come and gone with McCain in the lead while Romney and Huckabee hang in there. Meanwhile, Clinton and Obama continue their close contest.

Monday, February 04, 2008

W's FY2009 Budget Request

President Bush's final full budget request of $3.1 trillion was released this morning. Needless to say, there is already much controversy over what gets cut and how big the deficit is.

Alan Boyle sees some good things for science, with a big 'if' concerning ongressional approval.
"If those labs can get through this year, and appropriations follow the requests, then starting next year, those labs and those physical programs will be in much better shape," Koizumi told me.

That's a big if. Over the past seven years, Bush has repeatedly faced criticism for his approach to scientific issues such as global warming and stem cells - but on this issue, he's the one who looks like the champion of science, while members of Congress come off looking like Neanderthals.

Jeff Foust takes a first look focusing on the NASA portion of that budget.

Across the Universe

NASA is about to send a transmission of the Beatles' song Across the Universe toward the star Polaris as a celebration of multiple anniversaries. The official site is here.

The transmission is now underway.

The transmission was sent as planned at 7 PM EST. NASA TV provided live coverage from the Jet Propulsion Lab as the music was transmitted. Hopefully, there will be a replay available for streaming from either of these sites.