Thursday, October 29, 2009

THUD!! 1,990 Pages Too Long

Just in time for Halloween, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unleashed her behemoth 1,990 page version of the health care bill today. The more contortions they go through to try and pass this stuff only confirms that the only smart move is to stop any health care reform being pushed by the current leadership in Washington. Better to wait a few years until we are able to get truly constructive health care reform.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aries 1-X Launch

Ares 1-X ascends in today's test launch.
Photo Credit: NASA

NASA's Ares 1-X launch vehicle was successfully launched today on a suborbital test flight of some of the characteristics NASA plans for its Ares 1 crew carrying launch vehicle. Congratulations to all those on the Ares team that worked hard to get to this moment.

The test occurs as NASA and the White House and Congress review the report released by the Augustine Committee last week which addressed some of the options for the nation's human space exploration plans. Concerns about technical, cost and scheduling issues with NASA's current plan have prompted new consideration of other Shuttle derived launch vehicle proposals as well as commercial human launch options.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Augustine Committee Report

It's been the buzz in the space community from late spring, all through the summer and into the fall. The Review of US Human Space Flight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine committee, today delivered its final report (PDF).

The report describes the currently planned program and proposed alternatives in light of a couple of budget scenarios and lays out several options of exploration strategies and launch vehicle architectures. The report will now be considered by NASA, the Obama Administration and Congress in developing a budget and path for NASA and the nation's human spaceflight activities.

Meanwhile, NASA administrator Charles Bolden is reported to have requested studies of Shuttle hardware based launch vehicles to be completed before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglican Christians Provided Path for Full Communion with the Catholic Church

In a historic announcement today, the Vatican announced Pope Benedict XVI's decision to allow Anglican Christians to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Details and the historic significance are explained in this Catholic Online article.
There is only one word for this historic announcement - extraordinary. The Apostolic Constitution signed by Pope Benedict XVI will dramatically affect the ecclesial landscape of the entire Christian world. It will also change Christian history going forward. To this observer, who has been writing about these events for a long time and holding firm to the hope of just such an opening while others dismissed it, this is only the beginning of an historic period of Church history, a new missionary age.

Father George Rutler, himself a former Anglican, describes how today's event marks the decline of the liberal wing in the Anglican Church and then goes on to explain its larger significance to the future of Christianity.
It remains to be seen how many Anglicans (Episcopalians in the USA) will be received into the Catholic Church under these provisions, but it is a final nail in the coffin of the rapidly disintegrating Anglicanism at least in the West are will radically challenge Anglicans in other parts of the world.

Perhaps most importantly, it sets a precedent for reunion with Orthodox churches whose Holy Orders the Catholic Church already recognizes as valid.

At a time when the the most active forces in the world appear to be the most extreme wing of Islam and a growing extreme secular/atheist movement, this move toward greater Christian unity may mark a significant new twist in the coming future of humanity.

Ares-1X on the Pad

The Ares I-X rocket has reached Launch Pad 39B.
Image credit: NASA TV

Early today, NASA rolled out the first test vehicle of its planned future exploration program, Ares-1X, to launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The vehicle, which will use a Space Shuttle solid rocket booster with a dummy fifth segment, upper stage and capsule, is scheduled for its suborbital test launch next Tuesday, October 27.

Whether this is the first of many vehicles of this type or a one-shot-wonder, may be determined by the review of the whole NASA human spaceflight program now underway. The Augustine committee conducting that review is set to deliver its long awaited final report on Thursday.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Fair and Balanced" May Be Spreading

Two recent examples from surprising sources indicate that established media organizations, perhaps in spite of themselves, are capable of presenting both sides of society's most controversial issues. In one case, Jill Stanek reports that a recent pair of articles in the New York Times (yes, the New York Times !) told the stories of prolife street protesters in a even-handed manor and presented the photographic evidence of the violence of abortion usually avoided by the major media.

In the other example, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), in an on-line article, actually acknowledged that the question of man-made global warming is far from settled. Scientists with differing points of view on the issue were quoted and the complexity and changing state of climate science were recognized.

It's too soon to tell whether these examples signal an emerging trend. Occurrences of the usual ideological media bias are still common. However, declining readership/viewership and major scoops by alternative media enterprises (e.g. the ACORN scandal) may be forcing some established media practitioners to be more diligent about getting outside of their ideological comfort zones to present controversial issues more fairly.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Balloon Boy" Home Safe (He Never Left) and a Childhood TV Memory

The boy-and-the-balloon episode in Colorado yesterday had a happy, if somewhat anticlimactic and mysterious, ending, with the boy being home the whole time.

This event actually brought back memories of a fictional multi-show episode (scroll down to ""The Journey" part 1 (02/17/63)") on the TV show Lassie, where Timmy and Lassie (the world's most famous collie of that era) take an accidental balloon trip to a Canadian forest. I was only seven years old at the time and I recall being genuinely worried about the fate of Timmy and Lassie. The story was later made into a movie.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hitting the Moon for Science

NASA's LCROSS mission impacted the Moon Friday morning in search of water in the shadows of lunar South Pole crater Cabeus. While the lack of a visible flash or plume was disappointing to many, scientists are still analyzing data from spacecraft and ground based observatories which may yet reveal significant scientific results. Significant amounts of water, especially in the lunar polar regions would also be helpful to future human activities on or near the Moon.

Triumph of Hope over Accomplishment

The selection of President Barack Obama for this year's Nobel Peace Prize has astonished even many who are not opposed to the President or his policies. The Nobel prize is usually awarded after someone has accomplished specific works that have brought some peace or advanced human dignity somewhere in the world.

While we argue now over the likely outcome of President Obama's policies in five or ten years, at least he will have a record that can be assessed. That would have been a more appropriate time frame to consider anyone for a Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to noble leaders for human dignity including Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, but in more recent years seems to have taken on more of a political agenda. I'm not really surprised at anything after the award of the prize a couple of years ago to Al Gore for making a bad science fiction movie.

Celebrating Water on Earth and Space

Spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte (aka space clown) hosted an international media performance last night from his vantage point aboard the International Space Station that focused on the planet's water supply and its importance to all human beings. Much of the show reflected the style of Cirque du Soleil, of which Laliberte is the founder. You can see a replay of this 2-hour global event at the One Drop Foundation site.

Laliberte and two departing ISS crewmembers have departed from the station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and will be landing in Kazakhstan in a few hours.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Some Space Stuff

A couple of space notes to catch up on.

- The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, bringing two new crew members and paying passenger Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, who will host a global show next Friday focusing on the world's water resources.

- Today is the fifth anniversary of SpaceShipOne winning the Ansari X-Prize for privately funded and executed human spaceflight. Developments since then have bee on the ground and relatively behind the scenes, but that will soon change.

- Look for an exciting Hubble IMAX movie to come out next spring, coinciding with the telescope twentieth anniversary on-orbit. Some of us who supported the latest servicing mission got to see a preview of some footage being prepared for the movie. It's quite impressive.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency has provided a video tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope. (Hat tip to Jack Kennedy's Spaceports blog.)

The Thrill is Gone

The world's largest figure lost credibility by leading an entourage to Copenhagen to win over the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to place the Summer Olympics in Chicago in 2016. So, as the Olympics were handed to Rio, Oprah went away empty-handed! How is she ever going to face her audience again with her guests covering all the idiosyncrasies of relationships, health, or whatever else she covers on her popular series? (I've hardly ever watched it, so I don't really know.) And weren't we counting on her to subdue the Iranian leaders with psycho-babble into giving up their nuclear weapons program?

Seriously, the thing that startled commentators, even those who had criticized the trip in advance, was that President Obama put his credibility on the line without assurance of a favorable outcome. Most had assumed that if the President was putting himself and his office so out in front, the fix must be in. (After all, this is Chicago we're talking about.)

Anyway, there are mixed emotions about this outcome. Obviously, it would have been a point of local and national pride for Chicago to have hosted the Olympics (though polling showed Chicago residents divided, given the financial risks and logistical hassles involved). Of course congratulations and best wishes are due to Rio, which no doubt will put on a great show.

More important, is what does it mean for the President's credibility in dealing with more serious issues? On the one hand, it is a good thing if it diminishes his ability to win support for some of the dubious policies that he and the Congressional Democrats are pushing. And it is a healthy reminder that, for all the hype last year, Barack Obama does not walk on water. At the same time, all Americans should be concerned that any president, even one that many of us so strongly disagree with, not have their credibility so diminished that those in the world who would do us grave harm might act on their evil desires. We are living in dangerous times, so watch and pray.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Triple Play at Mercury

A Bright Spot on the Surface of Mercury (September 29, 2009)
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft flew by the planet Mercury on Tuesday, the third of three flybys before the spacecraft enters orbit around the planet in 2011. Mercury is the Solar System's inner-most planet.

This afternoon a friend and I attended an event at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the organization that built and is now controlling the pioneering spacecraft. We heard several of the leading mission participants present background on the science and exploration of Mercury and the MESSENGER mission along with the latest results (followed by a stop for barbecue and beer just outside the Lab). For continuing updates, check out the MESSENGER web site.