Sunday, May 31, 2009

Murder of Abortion Doctor Appalling to True Prolife People

Today's murder of late-term abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas is an act abhorred by me and the 99.99999...% of people actively working through peaceful means to protect human life at every stage and condition. (As of this time, a suspect has been apprehended but the motive is still unclear.) Professor Robert George of Princeton University says it best in this statement:
Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller's life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life. Let our "weapons" in the fight to defend the lives of abortion's tiny victims, be chaste weapons of the spirit.

Prolife organizations have consistently condemned this killing, so in case you don't hear it elsewhere here are statements from some of the major organizations: National Right to Life Committee, Priests for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, American Life League and the Family Research Council

May God have mercy on George Tiller's soul and provide comfort to his family.

Paul Haney, "Voice of Mission Control", RIP

Paul Haney, the most familiar "Voice of Mission Control" during the early space program (one of those voices that helped inspire my passion for space travel), has passed away at age 80.

Friday, May 29, 2009

And Then There Were Six

Soyuz TMA-15 launches Wednesday morning toward the International Space Station.

The International Space Station finally achieved its full complement of six crew members this morning when the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft and its crew of three (Expedition 20) arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to join the Expedition 19 crew already there. With a full size crew and a full set of solar arrays for power, the ISS will finally begin to realize its full potential for scientific and technological research and development.

The World This Week

A lot of news this week. Here's a 'drive-by' look:

-North Korea Monday morning set off a nuclear weapon test, an uproar of world reaction and a new challenge for the Obama Administration. While we only have limited power to try to prevent another nation from acquiring such weapons, we should continue to vigorously develop missile defense as part of our overall national security strategy.

-The President's Supreme Court nominee (unlike his nominee for NASA Administrator) is definitely an ideological choice, in this case in favor of an activist and subjective judiciary. The role of the Supreme Court should be to judge cases based on the Constitution. Applying a criteria of 'empathy' (in President Obama's words), among other flaws, can lead to injustice because it is a subjective criteria. One party's side of a case may appear more deserving of empathy, but it would be unjust to the other party for the case to be decided on that basis.

-California's state Supreme Court upheld the law enacted by the state's voters through Proposition 8 last November confirming the long standing definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

I don't believe that position represents bigotry against those with a same sex orientation. Society can respect the dignity of each individual and address legitimate concerns (benefits, health care, etc.) through other means without undermining the function that marriage has played in every society in human history.

Further, regardless of which side one takes on the definition of marriage, a judicial override of a popular vote on a constitutional amendment like this (barring discovery of an obvious legal flaw in the process) would have aroused strong public resentment and lack of confidence in the democratic process.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

ISDC in Orlando

Given the timing with planning for supporting the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission, this will be the first year since 1987 that I haven't gone to the International Space Development Conference (ISDC).

With all the developments and undercurrents going on right now in NASA, commercial space and other areas of the space community, look for news coming out of the conference from several sources: NSS Blog, Rand Simberg, Doug Messier, Clark Lindsey (remotely) and Jeff Foust, who is tweeting. Also, SpaceVidcast is posting video clips of at least some of the sessions.

One news highlight to look forward to: the advocates of the 'Direct' launch architecture will be presenting 'v.3.0' of their proposal at 4PM EDT Friday (though they probably won't have it posted at their site 'til after the conference).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Home at Last!

We can finally put a wrap on the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission with this morning's safe return of the Shuttle Atlantis and her crew in California, deterred from landing in Florida for three days straight by persistent bad weather.

I've been home for a few days but now the entire mission team can stand down and celebrate this most memorable mission. For all of us on the large team of people from government, industry, academia and international partners who worked on this mission, it is a time of celebration and gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this endeavour, with anticipation of the great scientific information and inspiring pictures to come from Hubble.

It is also a time of wondering what comes next, as this is the last servicing mission planned for the Hubble. Even from within, there is debate about the course NASA is taking. With new leadership nominated for NASA and a new commission undertaking a review of the human spaceflight program and its architecture, it can be hoped that the outcome will be a program robust enough to carry out our exploration goals, engage the commercial sector and retain the capabilities, including in-space servicing, that have been developed over the last few decades

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New NASA Leadership

While Shuttle Atlantis was waved off for a second day, now set to land Sunday in Florida or California, the White House announced the selections of former astronaut Charles Bolden to be the new NASA Administrator and Lori Garver as Deputy Administrator. (Here's an additional informative article from They will go through the usual congressional confirmation process before taking office.

Bolden flew on several shuttle missions, including as commander of the STS-31 mission in April 1990 to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope and has extensive military and NASA leadership experience. I know Lori from her days as Executive Director of the National Space Society and she has since served at NASA HQ and in private sector space consulting positions. This is one set of Obama Administration nominations I can applaud and I hope they will have the support of the Administration and Congress in carrying on and revitalizing our national space efforts.

Catching Up At Home

I arrived home Wednesday. Taking time off to catch up on things here. Also finally had time to go see the new Star Trek movie on Thursday, attend a breakfast Friday morning on Capitol Hill featuring Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), whose district includes the Johnson Space Center and have lunch/dinner (whatever a meal at ~3 PM is called) in Annapolis (missing the hoopla/congestion there earlier in the day with President Obama addressing Naval Academy commencement).

Meanwhile, the Atlantis crew had their landing in Florida postponed from Friday to Saturday because of weather.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Improved Hubble On Its Own Again

Atlantis astronaut Megan McArthur unberthed and released the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit this morning after five spectacular days of repairs and upgrades by the shuttle crew, supported by a large team on the ground.

Now that Hubble is released, many of us have now been released from mission support. Tonight was the first night we could enjoy dinner here. I've moved my flight home ahead to tomorrow. There will be plenty of Hubble people on that flight back to Maryland.

This was a day for congratulations, reminiscences, good byes and speculation about the future. This last week and a half in Florida and Houston has been quite a ride. I'll probably have more to say after I get settled back home. And, of course, the mission isn't really over until the astronauts safely return (scheduled for Friday).

Meanwhile, back in the Mid-Atlantic region, another space success with this evening's launch from the spaceport at Wallops Island.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wrapping Up Five Spectacular Productive Days

John Grunsfeld an Andrew Feustel have now entered the airlock after finishing today's final EVA tasks (summary and more links here) finishing the repairs and upgrades to the Hubble Space Telescope that are likely to yield fantastic new images and discoveries in the years to come.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Fix-It Work Today

Today's 4th day of work on the Hubble is primarily focused on repair of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).

A little more background on my role in the mission. I am part of a group of people from the Hubble project (NASA & contractors) who are supporting the mission at Johnson Space Center in Houston. (There are many others back at Goddard in Maryland.) I sit at a console in a large control room down the hall from the main Shuttle control room, keeping track of mission logs and other information. While there is a view of our room on one of the internal TV channels, I don't expect we'll be on NASA TV.

Meanwhile, here's a prediction on how energy from space might soon play a key role in our future.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New and Restored Science Instruments

Today's third day of work on Hubble included installation of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and repair of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

Our shifts on the ground have shifted an hour later to accommodate a revised crew sleep cycle. My shift is now 4:30 PM to 5:30 AM. While working this planning shift turns the body's sleep cycle upside down, there is an advantage in that there are more quiet moments.

During a quiet time, I can go upstairs in Building 30 to the 3rd floor and visit the old Apollo control room, where Apollo 11 videos run continuously day and night as sort of an 'eternal flame'. This allows a few moments to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of those pioneers (in space and on ground support) who went before us in opening this frontier.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Obama, Notre Dame and a Seminal Moment

The storm surrounding President Obama's role at Notre Dame's Sunday commencement ceremony may be a seminal moment in the history of the nation, the prolife movement and the Catholic Church. I won't have much time to follow or provide updates, but stay tuned to and ProLife Blogs for developments and commentary.

Hubble Upgrades Day 2

Today's work on upgrading the Hubble is underway as three pairs of gyros are being replaced.

FYI: NASA formally labels a spacewalk as an EVA. EVA stands for Extra-Vehicular ("outside the vehicle") Activity.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill indicates there is likely to be a new head of NASA named next week.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hubble Improvements Begin as Two New 'Scopes Enter Space

The new Wide Field Planetary Camera 3 has already been installed onto Hubble as part of the first EVA (spacewalk).

Meanwhile, Europe has launched two new powerful instruments to join Hubble in Space. What wondrous scientific discoveries await us?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Atlantis and Hubble Together

Worked my first full shift overnight. I'm on what's called the "planning shift" where activities are replanned if necessary for the next day. The astronauts are sleeping during most of this period. My shift goes from ~3:30 PM to ~4 to 4:30 AM.

The Atlantis crew spent yesterday closing in on Hubble while performing Orbiter tile inspections. Just watched the crew capture and berth Hubble on NASA TV here in the hotel room.

FYI: Background information on the various repairs and upgrades being made to Hubble during this mission can be found at this NASA link.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Atlantis Soars to a Date with Hubble!

I'm settling in in Houston now. The launch was quite an experience. Along with the visual show, the most memorable sensation was the rumbling and deep crackling sound in the air which reached our viewing site ~20 seconds after launch (given the time for the sound to travel). Here are a few of my raw pics.

Here are some links to reports on the launch. (Standing hat tip to Jeff Foust for saving me the time to search for relevant links.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Night Before

The prelaunch parties have wound down. People are settling into sleep awaiting Monday afternoon's launch. Above is a (highly telephotod) picture of Atlantis on Pad 39A I took while returning from the IMAX presentation at the KSC Visitors Center earlier this evening. Look closely just to the left of the white spherical tank and you can see the tip of the tank of the Endeavour stack waiting on Pad 39B in case of a rescue mission which hopefully will not be needed.

This will be my last post from Florida. If I get good launch photos I'll post a few after I'm settled in Houston. Otherwise my posts from Houston will be short and intermittent, with links to NASA or media sources for mission details. I'll be on 13 hour shifts as my real work gets underway.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Blogging from Cocoa Beach

Arrived last night. Stayed at the Super 8 over in Cocoa for one night. Did the tourist things today: a nature cruise on the Banana River, shopping at Ron Jon Surf Shop, eating seafood for lunch and dinner. Also attended the Saturday vigil mass at the local parish.

Anticipation is building for Monday's launch. (Here's a report on launch preparations.) Tomorrow, I may hit the beach in the late morning. Later mid-afternoon will be helping register people for causeway buses. (I'll be a bus captain on Monday.) Then there's a special IMAX event at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitors Center and the the big Hubble-Huggers prelaunch party back here at the Holiday Inn.

Friday, May 08, 2009

It's Show Time!

The Shuttle mission to Hubble I’ve been working on the past few years is almost here.

I’ll be flying to Florida Friday evening, staying in Cocoa Beach over the weekend relaxing and participating in events (including the big prelaunch party) leading up to the launch of Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-125 scheduled for Monday, 2:01 PM. I’ll be part of a group on a causeway ~5 miles from the launch pad. (This will be the second Shuttle launch I see in person. The other was the first night launch in 1983.) Then it’s on to Houston where I’ll be part of a Hubble team supporting the mission down the hall from the main Shuttle control room.

This is a challenging mission that if successful, will leave HST more capable than ever and will yield more knock-your-socks-off science. Please keep in your thoughts and prayers the mission and our team and especially the safety of our seven astronauts. Thanks.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft.
One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge.

Psalm 19:2-3

Hubble Ultra Deep Field
Photo credit: NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith (STScI) and The HUDF Team

NASA Budget and Human Spaceflight Review

The Obama Administration yesterday provided more details on its Fiscal Year 2010 $18.69 billion budget request for NASA and directed an independent review of the current human spaceflight program.
The review panel will assess a number of architecture options, taking into account such objectives as: 1) expediting a new U.S. capability to support use of the International Space Station; 2) supporting missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit; 3)stimulating commercial space flight capabilities; and 4) fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.

A particular focus is likely to be whether the current Constellation architecture under development of Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles should be retained for NASA's human spaceflight or whether a proposal for a more "Direct" Shuttle derived architecture or use of existing or upgraded Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) like those currently used for military and commercial unmanned launches (or some combination of the later two) would be more sustainable.

This is an interesting development. I am of course wary given some of President Obama's disastrous policy and personnel choices in other areas. However, space policy doesn't always divide along ideological lines and, given the choice of the highly respected Norm Augustine to head the panel, I will remain cautiously hopeful that the result may yield some needed improvements to our space efforts.

Voice Support for Ethical and Effective Stem Cell Research

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a web page with information and links to send a message to your senators and US representative plus the National Institutes of Health on the proposed embryonic stem cell research policy.
Following President Obama’s March 9 executive order, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has proposed guidelines for federally funded embryonic stem cell research. The guidelines would - for the first time - use taxpayer funds to encourage the killing of embryonic human beings for their stem cells.

This marks a new chapter in divorcing biomedical research from its necessary ethical foundation, respect for human life at all stages

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jack Kemp RIP

Jack Kemp, one-time NFL QB and leading conservative political leader, has died at age 73.