Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What a Trip!

As I usually say at the New Year or on my birthday, "just one more trip around the Solar System". But, to borrow from Jerry Garcia, what a long, strange trip this year has been (but with some real blessings, too).

A year ago, it looked like our next president would be Hillary Clinton or one of several Republicans.

The US shot down a failing satellite in February, gaining some missile defense experience in an increasingly dangerous world. Civilian and commercial space activities made significant advances this year, particularly in the year's final weeks, while the final Shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope has to wait until 2009.

Spring time brought a particularly blessed time with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the US, which included the April 17 Mass in DC which I attended.

The year saw the most serious economic dislocations world wide in many decades, with spiking energy prices, the housing and credit market collapses and ongoing fear and uncertainty going into the new year.

The seemingly endless presidential campaign concluded with the historic election of Barack Obama while introducing a dynamic prolife conservative leader to the nation in the person of Sarah Palin, who will surely be a part of our future.

Our new president should be in our prayers so that he gains the wisdom and strength to do the right things (even if they differ from some of his past positions and promises). Those prayers are also needed in light of the continuing and growing dangers in the world, as seen this year in the Russian invasion of Georgia, the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai and in the Middle East violence provoked by Hamas in the closing days of the year. It is possible to pray fervently for peace without assuming a false moral equivalency in every conflict.

Well, we say good bye to one wild and crazy year, and look forward to a challenging new year with our prayers and hopes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apollo 8 Launched 40 Years Ago Today


On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission with astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders launched on the first manned mission of the Saturn V rocket from Cape Kennedy, Florida. While the actual landing on the lunar surface by Apollo 11 the following summer is generally more often remembered, it was this mission that first marked humanity's breaking away from the immediate vicinity of Earth to visit another world. This Christmas time mission was a major inspirational moment for me.

Paul Spudis remembers and comments and provides several other links (Hat tip to HobbySpace).

Coming at the end of a very troubled year for the nation and the world, the journey of Apollo 8 provided an uplifting and unifying experience for the world and inspired Time Magazine's Men of the Year selection.
SO it seemed to Christopher Columbus in 1500. In the closing days of 1968, all mankind could exult in the vision of a new universe. For all its upheavals and frustrations, the year would be remembered to the end of time for the dazzling skills and Promethean daring that sent mortals around the moon. It would be celebrated as the year in which men saw at first hand their little earth entire, a remote, blue-brown sphere hovering like a migrant bird in the hostile night of space.

The year's transcendent legacy may well be that in Christmas week 1968, the human race glimpsed not a new continent or a new colony, but a new age, one that will inevitably reshape man's view of himself and his destiny. For what must surely rank as one of the greatest physical adventures in history was, unlike the immortal explorations of the past, infinitely more than a reconnaissance of geography or unknown elements. It was a journey into man's future, a hopeful but urgent summons, in Poet Archibald MacLeish's words, "to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold - brothers who know now they are truly brothers."

The inspirational highlight of the mission was the Christmas Eve telecast from lunar orbit where the crew read from the first verses of Genesis.

Some addirional thoughts and videos on this epic mission are posted at The Discovery Enterprise.

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 and emerging developments that can 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.

Obama Announces Science and Tech Team

Barack Obama has announced some key appointments related to science and technology (although no word on the NASA administrator job yet). There are some good, some bad and still some uncertain aspects as to where his sci-tech policies are going, about which I'll have plenty to say as things develop.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Space Solar Power Highlighted

A position paper (PDF) submitted by the Space Frontier Foundation to the Obama transition team has been linked on the transition web site, where it has already generated three pages of comments, pro and con (and you can join in).

The one page paper summarizes the potential benefits of collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it to Earth and makes recommendations on the role the federal government can take in researching and developing space based solar power as a part of our mix of energy sources in the future. As an Advocate of the Space Frontier Foundation, I'm happy that this proposal is receiving such prominent public exposure and discussion.

Fitz Blitz

Reports and commentary are everywhere regarding the arrest of Illinois Governor Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief-of-staff on multiple corruption charges, including the attempted selling of the Senate seat being vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama. Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald emphasized that Obama is not implicated in these charges (and in fact, he refused to go along with the Governor's alleged dealings and was one of many targets of Blago's foul-mouthed tirades recorded by the FBI during the investigation).

ABC's Jake Tapper notes that there is a discrepancy between the accounts by Obama and senior adviser David Axelrod over his contacts with Blago, though there may or may not be any significance there.

Fitzgerald, who prosecuted Scooter Libby and investigated others in the Bush Administration over issues related to the 'Valery Plame affair', has focused much of his efforts as a federal prosecutor investigating corruption in the Chicago area. The incoming president did spend his rising political career in the milieu of Chicago politics, so Fitzgerald's continuing investigation of corruption in Illinois may remain as a shadow during his presidency. Today's developments are only the start of an ongoing story.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Real Change We Can All Believe In

While it was overshadowed by the national presidential and congressional elections and the approval in California of the Marriage Amendment, California voters also made history and showed common sense in voting for another initiative.
Proposition 11, which passed with the narrowest of margins (50.8 percent), could mark the most serious challenge to the political class by voters since the foiled term limit movement of the 1990s. It strikes at the core pillar of power: incumbency guaranteed through gerrymandered districts. Californians took away from their legislature the power to draw its own districts--a key element of nearly uninterrupted Democratic control since 1970. The task will now be handled by an eight-member commission chosen much like a jury, whose members cannot come from the political class.

Hopefully, this will become a wave across the country. The practical result would be to make other states such as Maryland, like California, less dominated by Democratic legislative control, while loosening Republican domination in other states such as Texas. In short, legislative races across any state that adopts this reform could become more competitive and citizens would feel they have more influence in how they are governed.

Georgia On Our Minds: Saxby Chambliss Wins!

Republican incumbent US Senator Saxby Chambliss won tonight's run-off election in Georgia, denying the Democrats an absolute 60 seat margin in the US Senate.

Meanwhile, Kathryn Jean Lopez debunks a lingering scurrilous accusation against Chambliss over an ad run during his first Senate campaign six years ago.
Saxby Chambliss, of course, did not question Cleland’s patriotism. He ran an ad that, yes, included images of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, as well as images of the American military. They were reminders we’re at war. The ad attacked Cleland for voting 11 times against a homeland-security bill that would have freed the president from some union mandates in setting up the new department. Agree or disagree with the bill (which was co-sponsored by then-senator Zell Miller of Georgia, a Democrat), the non-union employee measure, or the establishment of the department itself (National Review wasn’t a fan of the idea), but it was absolutely fair game for Chambliss to bring it up during the course of his campaign for Cleland’s Senate seat.

Tacking to the Center?

President-Elect Barack Obama's choices for key cabinet and staff positions have many wondering whether the incoming president has truly moderated his positions from those he took during the campaign. Caution is advised at this early stage of the formation of Obama's administration. Given the continuing dangers in the world, emphasized by the terrorist atrocities in India, and the continuing economic doldrums, we can only hope for a more moderate path.

Rich Lowry even sees continuity between Barack Obama and, gosh, George W. Bush.
A kind of continuity is also possible for Obama because the caricature of Bush foreign policy as dangerously radical never accurately reflected reality.

Bush wants U.S. troops to "return on success" in Iraq - so does Obama. Bush supports a buildup in Afghanistan - so does Obama. Bush wants a larger military - so does Obama. Bush has launched raids against al-Qaeda into the tribal areas of Pakistan - Obama wants to do the same. Bush wants to close Guantánamo Bay, but has been bedeviled by the difficult choices inherent in its shuttering - Obama will be, too. Bush has put out diplomatic feelers to Iran, while warning of the unacceptability of its nuclear program - Obama has done the same, although with more of an accent on diplomacy.

While any trend toward moderation on national security and economic issues would be good for the country, unfortunately, Obama's appointments do not indicate any trend toward moderation on social issues, particularly those involving the vulnerability of human lives.
SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser tells that Clinton's selection is the latest in a line of appointments that shows Obama isn't serious about finding middle ground on reducing abortions.

"President-elect Barack Obama spoke of finding 'common ground' on abortion policy, but so far his personnel picks preclude this policy," she said. "Women and children deserve authentic common ground that affirms the lives of both. It is hard to see how these aggressive abortion advocates, so out of the mainstream woman's view, would help forge such ground."