Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Atlantis on the Pad (Again) for Hubble

Image credit: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Atlantis, stacked with its external tank and solid rocket boosters, was rolled out to Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning for a scheduled May 12 launch to perform the final scheduled servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Atlantis was on the pad last fall set for an October launch for the HST servicing mission but had to be rolled back for a replacement Science Instrument Command & Data Handling unit to be prepared for flight after an anomaly on-orbit. Hopefully, this time Atlantis will be able to leave the pad vertically.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Terri's Day 2009

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the court-imposed death by dehydration and starvation of Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fighting (for Life) Irish

The uproar over the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree at its May 17 commencement ceremony continues to mushroom. The action has generated protest and petition activities within the Notre Dame community and among the larger Catholic community and general public, given Obama's extreme anti-life record just two months into his administration. (If this fuss seems strange to you, just imagine a prestigious Catholic university inviting a prominent political leader whose policies promote discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc.)

National Review Online posts an extensive symposium on the ND situation while Wall Street Journal columnist (and ND alumnus) William McGurn delivers an articulate critique of the university's invitation to Obama.
"We hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him." So explains Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, as he discusses the university's choice of Barack Obama as this year's commencement speaker. In yesterday's student newspaper "The Observer," where the quotation appears, the thought is introduced with another helpful bromide: The honor accorded President Obama, it is reported, will be a "catalyst for dialogue."

Now, if the president were going to Notre Dame to engage in dialogue, that would be one thing. But Mr. Obama will not be going to Notre Dame to "dialogue." He will be going to help advance his agenda.

Given that Fr. Jenkins and others responsible are not inclined to rescind the invitation, they are likely to encounter more "engagement" and "dialogue" than they intended. An intriguing variable in this situation, according to the National Catholic Register, is another commencement participant, Mary Ann Glendon, a distinguished law professor who is receiving the university's Laetare Medal.
Few are so well equipped to teach the truths the Catholic Church proclaims about the sanctity of human life as Glendon. Among her long list of credentials are a Harvard law professorship, leadership of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Scientists and of the Vatican delegation to the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, and a just-concluded stint as United States Ambassador to the Holy See.

This could provide a teaching moment comparable to the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, where Mother Teresa boldly spoke for defending the dignity of human life in front of President Bill Clinton (and First Lady Hillary) and other powers that be.

Also in play is the growing reaction among many students, parents and alumni. It will be interesting to see what kind of peaceful and dignified but highly visible sign of "engagement" may be visible among many of the participants in the commencement exercise.

Discovery Safely Lands while Soyuz Arrives at ISS

Shuttle Discovery and its crew landed in Florida this afternoon after a successful STS-119 mission that brought full power capability to the International Space Station (ISS). Meanwhile, the Expedition 19 crew (plus paying passenger Charles Simonyi) arrived at the ISS this morning to relieve the Expedition 18 crew.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The International Space Station We've Been Expecting to See


As the crew of Shuttle Discovery mission STS-119 departed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, they were able to view and image the fruits of their labor in adding the fourth and final truss segment and set of solar arrays. While there are still a few modules and other equipment to add, the ISS now really does resemble the illustrations we've seen over the years. The extra power provided by the new solar arrays will also enable expansion of the ISS crew size from three to six and enable much more scientific research to be conducted aboard the station.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft was launched with the Expedition 19 crew and "space tourist" Charles Simonyi, a billionaire taking his second ride to the ISS as a paying participant. He will be the last "tourist" to go to the ISS, at least for the foreseeable future, as the expansion to crew size of six leaves no room for extra passengers. However, these pioneering spaceflight participants, starting with Dennis Tito in 2001, have paved the way and given credibility to an emerging private spaceflight industry that will enable many more people too go into space.

Battle of the Hour Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow evening from 8:30 to 9:30 PM local time wherever you live, is an hour that is caught up in one of the debates of our time.

Proponents of the view that human activities, particularly emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gasses", are causing a dangerous warming of the Earth's climate are promoting "Earth Hour", during which people are encouraged to turn out their lights and use as little energy as practical as a symbolic gesture of concern about global warming.

Meanwhile, as the global warming debate is far from being "settled", others are planning to participate in "Human Achievement Hour" to celebrate technological and economic progress by using more lights and energy than normal as an act of defiance against the "Earth Hour" event.

Now I believe some healthy skepticism is in order about "global warming" (I need to get around to posting more current information and comment on this topic.), but I also favor reasonable efforts to develop alternative energy sources and protect the environment, with a particular interest in curbing light pollution.

So I'm taking a pragmatic approach to this whole dispute. What I will do tomorrow night will be determined by the weather. If it turns out to be clear, I will turn out most of my lights and go out and take advantage at whatever dimming of the lights occurs to observe the night sky. If, as the current forecasts indicate, it will be cloudy and raining here, I will not sit in the dark (or candlelight) for an hour, nor will I waste extra energy to prove a point. I'll just go about my business, perhaps reading, surfing or blogging.

I believe we can have continued human achievement while protecting the environment. In particular, I believe that curbing light pollution and giving more people a view of the night sky may enable more appreciation of the space frontier that our achievement is opening up. While turning out lights for an hour is a nice gesture, more practical and effective ways of curbing light pollution without compromising public safety or personal comfort are advocated by the International Dark Sky Association, of which I am a member.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tell HHS to Keep Conscience Protection!

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have provided a link to make it easy to submit an opinion to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services on the proposal under serious consideration by the Obama Administration to rescind Bush Administration rules protecting medical personnel and institutions from being coerced into performing or cooperating with objectionable practices, including abortion.

This proposal is seriously un-American and definitely not "prochoice". Let's tell them to keep protection for people in the health profession who value human life. (Submission deadline for comments is April 9.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Can't Keep Up

The misadventures of the Obama Administration and the Congressional leadership have been coming too rapidly for this humble blog to keep up with. Mark Steyn summarizes (some of) this week's foibles here.

Larry Kudlow comments on the real lessons of the AIG scandal.
This whole AIG fiasco - where the entire political class is suddenly screaming over bonuses paid to derivative traders in AIG’s financial-products division - is just a complete farce. What it really shows is how the government has completely bungled the AIG takeover. Blame the Bush administration and the Obama administration. It also shows, once again, why the government shouldn’t run anything, because it cannot run anything.

He also points out a significant technical move by the government that probably will make a positive difference for the economy.
Nevertheless, behind the furor over AIG, there is some good news to report on the banking front. This week’s decision by the Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to allow cash-flow accounting rather than distressed last-trade mark-to-market accounting will go a long way toward solving the banking and toxic-asset problem.

As President Obama has apologized for his clumsy remark regarding the Special Olympics, I won't dwell on the negative. Instead, here's a message on the topic from another political figure with more class and based on real life experience. (Hat tip to Just After Sunrise.)

ISS Now Up to Full Power

The International Space Station (ISS) and Shuttle Discovery astronauts unfurled the ISS's final set of large solar arrays today after installation of the S6 truss yesterday. This will enable the ISS crew size to soon be expanded from three to six and will also make the ISS an even brighter object as it passes through the night sky.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Artist unknown, Link by Saints.SQPN.com

Tuesday is March 17, St. Patrick's Day. Celebrations have started early over the weekend. So, be blessed, safe, and happy whenever you are celebrating Ireland's patron saint.

Catholic Forum provides links to descriptions of St. Patrick here and here.

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort me and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

In the spirit of the holiday, check out LiveIreland.com for webcasts of Irish music and other media direct from Ireland.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking More Power to the Space Station

NASA photo credit: Photo courtesy of Scott Andrews

Space Shuttle Discovery began mission STS-119 with a spectacular launch this evening from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The primary mission objective is to deliver the final (of four) large solar array segment to power the International Space Station (ISS). There will also be a swap of a couple of ISS crew members.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weird Science

President Obama's decision to support open-ended research exploiting human embryos raises all the issues about ethics, policy making and sound alternatives to a stark new level. Adam Keiper weighs in on how the President tries to downplay the serious ethical questions involved and minimize the real divide in public opinion.
First, the president claims that "the majority of Americans - from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs - have come to a consensus that we should pursue" stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos. This is a gross distortion. As Ramesh notes, the quality of polling in this area is terrible. The most comprehensive and balanced examination of public opinion was a poll commissioned by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and summarized by Yuval Levin here. That poll showed considerable public confusion about the stem-cell debate. Americans generally support scientific research, and so, unsurprisingly, when asked simply whether they support stem-cell research, a majority of the poll’s respondents said they did. But when the question was framed as an ethical matter, opinion shifted dramatically.

Bernadine Healy, the former head of the National institutes of Health and the American Red Cross points out the rapid pace of ethical alternatives that are more likely to yield the medical benefits promised for embryonic stem cell research.
"Even for strong backers of embryonic stem cell research, [Obama's decision] is no longer as self-evident as it was, because there is markedly diminished need for expanding these cell lines for either patient therapy or basic research," Healy explains.
"In fact, during the first six weeks of Obama's term, several events reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes, are obsolete," she adds.

One other thought came to me. Suppose they finally do manage to trick embryonic stem cells into working effectively without their dangerous side-effects. Under a health care rationing system that many suspect the Obama Administration to try to implement, how many patients would actually be allowed to benefit from such therapies?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Oh Deer!

A story here in my part of Silver Spring has received a little national and even international attention. On Thursday, a deer being pursued by two dogs crashed into a Greek restaurant that I've eaten at occasionally and then entered the Giant supermarket where I do most of my grocery shopping. (Local report and video.)

I went grocery shopping at the Giant earlier this afternoon. I didn't see any specials on venison in the meat department.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"A Mission for the Ages"

Image credit: NASA TV

That's how one NASA scientist described the Kepler mission launched tonight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This spacecraft and mission is designed specifically to find Earth sized planets orbiting other stars in a zone that might allow them to be 'habitable' by life.

Space.com has posted an article describing how Kepler will search for other worlds and a descriptive video (~7-1/2 min) featuring some of the key people involved in the mission. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust describes the mission and its significance here.
Because multiple transit detections are needed to confirm an exoplanet discovery, it will take essentially the entire 3.5-year mission to detect planets in Earth-like orbits. (Closer in planets with shorter periods will be found more quickly; Kepler should be able to find any planets in Mercury-like orbits in its first year of observations.) "In about three or four years from now there will be a press conference at NASA Headquarters," predicted Alan Boss, a Carnegie Institution of Washington astronomer who studies extrasolar planets and recently published a book on the topic (see "Review: The Crowded Universe", The Space Review, February 16, 2009), where Kepler project officials "will stand up and tell us just how frequently Earths occur."

It is significant that even in perilous times, humans continue to explore and seek out knowledge of the universe around us. Kepler may show us worlds that may turn out to be inhabited by life, or else could in the distant future could be inhabited by humans (pending travel technology far beyond any capability we have today).

Rush to Judgement

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been in the news often since his rousing speech to the CPAC conference last week. Here is the Politico article on how the White House and Democratic operatives are trying to make Rush the new Republican bogeyman even as the economy crashes and burns on their watch.

While no one speaks for all Republicans or all conservatives, Rush does speak for many frustrated Americans with a lively and often humorous delivery. So if you feel you don't like Rush Limbaugh, my question to you is have you ever listened, not just to what someone else says about him or to brief and out-of-context soundbites, but to his program for at least a half hour? (Here is his web site where you can find out which station near you carries his program.)

So Much for "Pro-Choice"

When he is not busy pushing disastrous economic policies, President Obama is obstinately pushing the Culture-of-Death agenda:

-The nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is more radical than your run-of-the-mill pro-abortion Democratic (or sometimes Republican) politician. Sebelius has a cozy relationship with notorious late term abortionist George Tiller. George Weigel explores a range of disturbing issues related to Sebelius.

-The intent to push for funding of embryonic stem cell research on Monday, even though it is ineffective and risky compared to ethical stem cell sources.

-Perhaps most onerous is the intent to reverse the conscience rule protecting individuals and organizations in the medical field from adverse consequences in adhering to their conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures. The move could result in Catholic hospitals defying pressure to participate in abortion or having to close, greatly impacting the communities they serve. This makes clear that the claim of abortion advocates of being 'pro-choice' is simply a gimmick to mask their fanatically pro-abortion agenda.

Monday, March 02, 2009

March Storm

No, not the ProSpace citizen space lobbying campaign, but an actual winter storm moving up the east coast as March comes in like a lion. The back-end is approaching DC as the storm proceeds to the northeast.

BTW, Mark Hemingway points out that fellow NRO blogger Greg Pollowitz actually called this storm for this date on December 18, as "global warming" protests seem to have an uncanny ability to attract severe winter weather.
Save the Date [Greg Pollowitz]

Anyone want to bet on a snowstorm hitting D.C. on March 2, 2009?

Make Climate Justice History - Mass civil disobedience March 2nd, 2009 in DC

Dear Friends and Allies-

We’re in the process of organizing a mass non-violent civil disobedience to coincide with Power Shift 2009. In late February 2009, the Energy Action Coalition will host over 10,000 climate activists focusing generally on making climate change, clean energy, and green jobs a priority for the new administration. Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, the Ruckus Society, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and a host of others are planning a mass non-violent civil disobedience, with a goal of organizing over 1,000 people, to cross the line and sit-in at the Capital Coal Plant.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Budgeting for Space

When you throw $3.6 trillion at the wall, some of it will inevitably stick to useful places. It appears that science, technology and education are treated fairly well in the FY2010 budget request. NASA receives an increase to $18.7 billion.

The NASA section of the White House budget document indicates that the Obama Administration is endorsing the Bush Administration policy of ending Space Shuttle operations in 2010 to concentrate on "development of systems to deliver people and cargo to the International Space Station and the Moon". (interestingly, the controversial Ares launch vehicle architecture currently under development is not specifically mentioned.) The budget statement also indicates an intention to "stimulate private-sector development and demonstration of vehicles that may support the Agency’s human crew and cargo space flight requirements".

There are two concerns with the NASA plans. For one, the Summary Tables (see p. 18) in the budget request indicate that, beyond this year's increase, the NASA budget is projected to be effectively flat for several years.

More immediately, there has been no appointment of a NASA administrator and senior leadership yet. The latest rumors point to Steve Isakowitz, an experienced and innovative individual in the space community. (I met him as part of a ProSpace delegation which met with him about ten years ago when he was Branch Chief of Science and Space Programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).) But until he or someone else is appointed to lead NASA, important decisions regarding the exploration architecture will be delayed, possibly resulting in wasted tax payer dollars and delay in reaching our space exploration goals.

One additional note on NASA: Charles Miller, a long time friend, space entrepreneur and Advocate for the Space Frontier Foundation, has been appointed as "Senior Advisor for Commercial Space" in the Innovative Partnership Programs office. This is a hopeful sign that NASA may be ready to move toward more innovative, commercial friendly policies.

Yes, We Can Tax & Spend!

Public Domain Pictures.net

The Fiscal Year 2010 budget request was released on Thursday as President Obama continues to make his mark on economic policy. The $3.6 trillion budget requests includes major tax increases and a projected budget deficit of $1.75 trillion.

Just a reminder of what a trillion "with a 't' "is.
One trillion is 1,000,000,000,000 - 10 to the 12th power, or a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand. To put things in perspective, current estimates put the number of stars in the Milky Way at somewhere between 100 and 400 billion. The U.S. population is slightly over 303 million, and the world population is around 6.6 billion.

$1 trillion would be enough money to buy about a 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every person in the United States. A trillion barrels of oil would - at current consumption levels - fuel the world for about 33 years.

Maybe they should just send each of us those 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. All that sugar should stimulate some economic activity.