Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Budget and the Future in Space

Tomorrow is the day for the annual release of the President's budget request for the next fiscal year (2011). This will no doubt intensify the debate over the ballooning federal deficit.

Along with all other federal departments and agencies, NASA and those interested in our future in space are awaiting tomorrow's release. This year more than normal, the budget release will be pivotal in indicating NASA's future direction.

Media reports such as this Washington Post article emphasize the apparent cancellation of the goal of returning to the Moon by 2020 and a historic initiative to enable commercial provision of human transport to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The move to encourage commercial involvement in human spaceflight is to be applauded. (I know. Doesn't this President realize that free enterprise also works on Earth? That's a topic for other posts.)

The apparent cancellation of the lunar goal is disturbing, but the situation is more complex than most media reports imply. (When the NYT and Fox News are echoing each other, you know there's a media echo chamber at work.)

A article, based on internal NASA management documents, reports on plans for an early test (2-3 years) of a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle (SDHLV) that would be, relatively speaking, simpler and more affordable to develop than the endangered Ares I/V vehicles currently planned. There are reports that this vehicle would be eventually moved into the stable of commercially provided launch vehicles, perhaps in a similar manner to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) provision of Atlas and Delta rockets and associated launch services.

The report that reaching the Moon by 2020 is off the table is likely true as there is currently no funding for a manned lunar landing vehicle. However, development of an affordable heavy lift launcher, especially if it is commercially managed, may enable a return to the Moon, along with other possible destinations included in the "flexible path" scenario that currently appears to be gaining support.

One media report that does cover the possible heavy lift vehicle development is this BBC article, which includes the role of the "DIRECT" team (some members who are within NASA and industry) who have been independently tweaking old NASA plans for an SDHLV. Here is the DIRECT web site and a Popular Science article describing their role in the debate over our future in space.

Of course, like all of the media reports and commentary, this post may soon be overcome by events, starting with tomorrow's budget release and other forthcoming announcements.

Predators: Swords as Plowshares

Unmanned Predator aircraft like those usually used by the US Air Force to spy on and attack terrorists in Afghanistan and other locations are being used to assist recovery efforts in Haiti.
The Predators have flown two round-the-clock orbits over Port-au-Prince, feeding full-motion video of roads and buildings, devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake, to service members, relief organizations and Haitian officials.

"We have focused a lot on roads and infrastructure because they want to see what is intact," said Maj. Jeff Bright, the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing detachment commander during a Jan. 28 telephone interview from Puerto Rico.

The Air Force didn’t receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration until Jan. 25. Predators and MQ-9 Reapers had never before received FAA approval to operate out of a civilian airport.

Brig. Gen. Darryl Burke, the Air Forces Southern vice commander acting as the Air Component Coordination with Joint Task Force-Haiti, said the Predator’s Haitian flights represent a historic first that could further debate regarding remotely piloted aircraft operations inside the U.S.

This development could also be relevant to future operations at US spaceports as commercial and military uses space expand.

Room with a View

Images and telecasts from the International Space Station (ISS) have become almost routine over recent years and members of the general public can be forgiven for becoming a little jaded with the glimpses of the interiors of ISS modules they usually see.

That is about to change with nest week's STS-130 launch, which includes among its cargo a cupola that will provide an expansive view of the Earth, space and the ISS structure. Here's a video from the European Space Agency (ESA) that illustrates this exciting addition to the ISS. (Hat tip to Spaceports)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Remembering Those Who Gave Their Lives on the Frontier

NASA is observing the anniversaries of its human losses in spaceflight: Apollo 1 (forty three years ago yesterday), Challenger (twenty four years ago today), and Columbia (seven years ago next Monday, February 1). SpaceRef has posted the NASA KSC press release announcing this year's remembrance.

Touchdown for Life

Plans for a Super Bowl ad featuring college football superstar Tim Tebow describing how his mother chose life for him during a difficult pregnancy situation has raised panic among the usual suspects.
"I don't think it’s anything that’s negative or anything like that," Tebow said, according to the newspaper. "It’s a good time and place. There are a lot of people watching. It’s a great opportunity to show something very happy and a special story and my mom fighting for me. There are a lot of great things in that"

CBS is, at least currently, planning to air the ad while allowing other possible advocacy ads during its Super Bowl coverage.

Good for CBS if they follow through and air the ad and for Sarah Palin who eloquently weighed in in support of the Tebow ad.
"What a ridiculous situation they're getting themselves into now with their protest of CBS airing a pro-life ad during the upcoming Super Bowl game," she continued.

She said there is nothing wrong with an ad that will "speak to the sanctity of life and the beautiful potential within every innocent child as Mrs. Tebow acknowledges her choice to give Tim life, despite less than ideal circumstances."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

States of the Union

President Obama's State of the Union message is underway with an emphasis on jobs, on which there is much agreement as a top priority, though there is sure to be much debate about the specifics.. Much of it is his standard content and style.

As a positive surprise, the President did endorse nuclear power plants and apparently some new offshore oil drilling as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. Still talks about " overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change." Hasn't he heard of Climategate?

Export reform mentioned, including hint of reforming export controls consistent with national security.

The unavoidable topic of deficits and the need to address spending is addressed. Calls for a bipartisan commission to address the deficit challenge. I don't think the back-handed Bush-bashing will help win bipartisan support.

Wants to meet more with Republicans. One election in Massachusetts does make a difference.

Addressing National security, terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In summary, a laundry list of proposals, good, bad and TBD. Vows to keep fighting, but I don't think his defiant tone will win over the growing skepticism in the nation. Here's the text of the speech.

Next up, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell with the Republican response. (Here's the text.) Jobs first priority in the response as well. Addresses deficits and the need to address the proper role of limited government. Recommends "common sense" health reform. Supports comprehensive and innovative energy policy.

Supports Obama's actions in Afghanistan but concerned about response to terrorist threat.

"Government closest to the people governs best." "America must always be a land where liberty and property are valued and respected, and innocent human life is protected."

Two speeches. Definitely two contrasting visions for America.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

March for Life: A Gathering of Hundreds of Thousands

While it marks a solemn anniversary, the March for Life is one of my favorite occasions of the year, as it brings together so many good people for such a great cause: the protection of the dignity of every human life at every stage and condition. You could say it is just an intimate gathering of hundreds of thousands of close friends.

Thursday evening, I attended the powerful vigil Mass at the National Shrine, standing in a corner at the very back of the very packed basilica.

Friday morning, I began a full day by attending the Blogs for Life 2010 conference, which featured an interesting agenda of prolife leaders presenting various aspects of the movement and expert panels on using new media to advance the cause.

Leading prolife bloggers discuss the new media and the message.

The Rally and March itself were an impressive display of support for protecting human life and opposing abortion.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life women's group, called this year's March for Life "an impressive and visible sign of a quiet populist reality" where more than 300,000 people are estimated to have attended.

Following the March, I took time to rest with friends at Madonna House and at The Dubliner before heading to the Rose Dinner where Princeton Professor Robert George gave a powerful assessment of "Our Struggle for the Soul of the Nation."

Below are more pics from the March.

The young carry a message to society.

A message for President Obama

Speaking Truth to Power

Women and men hurt by abortion shout "We will be - Silent No More!"

The cause of life must be advanced in every political party.

"Let Justice Roll!" proclaims a Christian rock band in front of the Supreme Court.

Below: One graphic image, just as a reminder of what it's all about

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Another Blow for Freedom

In the same week that the Massachusetts voters have apparently derailed the health care monstrosity, the Supreme Court today struck its own blow for liberty by removing many of the McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign financing, thus restoring more free speech for corporations and non-profit advocacy groups alike.

From NRO:
"We...hold that stare decisis does not compel the continued acceptance of Austin. The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether," Kennedy says in his decision.

Now, if they would only recognize that stare decisis (respect for judicial precedent) does not compel the continued acceptance of abortion-on-demand imposed by Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why We March

This is a slightly revised and updated article I first wrote and posted in 2004 at this time.

Friday, January 22, marks the 37th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which imposed abortion-on-demand in the United States. Once again, concerned citizens will gather on Friday for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn more than an estimated 200,000 participants. Now, why do so many people consider it so important to take time on a weekday to come to Washington, DC at the coldest time of the year to make their voice heard on this matter?

Before I go on any further, I need to say a couple of things. First, nothing in this article is meant to condemn anyone who has had an abortion or has been involved in abortion in some way. Far from condemning those with an abortion in their past, the people in the prolife movement are about healing and forgiveness, and want it to be clear that there is hope after abortion. Post-abortion counseling can be found through many church denominations and pregnancy counseling centers.

And second, while the prolife movement consists largely of people with strong religious convictions who feel called by God to defend the defenseless, that doesn't make the protection of human life a narrow, religious issue. The facts that the defenseless exist and that they deserve protection in the human family can be persuasively advocated by non-religiously reasoned arguments.

First, let's start with a little scientific background (from the Science for Unborn Human Life website) about how each of us began our lives as unique human beings. A new human being is conceived when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The sperm has 23 chromosomes and so does the egg. But the fertilized egg has 46, half from each parent, and is genetically unique. These 46 chromosomes, which are fixed at conception, establish the child's sex and are a blueprint for how it will develop, both during pregnancy and after birth.

Blood vessels start to form very early, about 13-18 days after fertilization. Then, on about the 20th day - nearly the end of the third week - the foundation of the brain, the spinal cord, and the entire nervous system is established. The heart begins to beat on about the 22nd day after conception, circulating blood throughout the child. The arms begin to form on about day 26, followed by the beginnings of the legs on day 28, the same day that the mouth opens for the first time.

Both the eyes and ears are developing rapidly during the seventh week after conception. At this time, the thumbs, neck, heels of the feet and all of the fingers are also present. Taste buds begin to form during the eighth week after conception. All parts of the limbs are apparent at this time. In addition, the fingers and toes have lengthened and are completely separated.

By the end of the eighth week the overwhelming majority (several thousand) of the body's organs, structures and systems have already begun to develop. Few, if any, new structures begin to form after this time. During the remainder of the pregnancy, development consists mainly of growth and maturation of the parts of the body that are already present.

Isolated arm, leg and backward head movements begin at about 7 to 10 weeks after conception. During the ninth week, a regular pattern of breathing movements is observed, with a median frequency of about 30 breaths each hour.

These are just the highlights of how you developed during the first 2-3 months of your life. Now consider that a majority of abortions are performed during the tenth to twelfth week of gestation. Some are performed much later in the pregnancy, when the child has grown larger and any unbiased observer would recognize a baby when they see one.

So why if the evidence so clearly indicates that a unique human life begins at conception, how did the deliberate and violent destruction of that life come to be imposed as a 'constitutional right'? Time does not permit describing the whole history of abortion or the intertwining influences of the eugenics and population control movements. Let's start with the socially turbulent late sixties when a growing pro-abortion movement subversively exploited the legitimate aspirations of women for greater rights and participation in society.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, has since changed his mind and heart and is now a leading prolife advocate. He points out the disinformation at the heart of the pro-abortion campaign.
- "The statistics that we gave to the American public about illegal abortions annually; the statistics we fabricated regarding the number of women dying from illegal abortions annually; all of these matters were pure fabrication and still persist to this very day."

- "We spoke of 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?"

- "We in NARAL were in the business of coining slogans principally for the media . . . we scattered catchy slogans for them . . . to use . . . in their stories. Slogans like "reproductive rights", "freedom of choice", "pro-choice". For many years we've known them to be hollow and meaningless. They're just catchy and, essentially, without substance."

The movement made rapid progress. California, New York and a few other states passed 'liberalized' abortion laws (though some other states rejected them). But what imposed abortion on American law were two Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, pronounced on January 22, 1973. The combined effect of the two decisions was to effectively impose abortion-on-demand throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that time, over forty nine million human beings have been exterminated by abortion in the United States.

Aside from the grave issue that was decided, the finding that abortion is part of a constitutional 'right of privacy' is considered an overreach of judicial power even by some legal scholars who describe themselves as 'prochoice'. The 'reasoning' was based on 'penumbras' the justices claim to have seen in the constitution.

Did you know that the two plaintiffs in the Roe and Doe cases, Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, have filed affidavits to the effect that they were manipulated into their roles and that the decisions should be overturned? You would think that this development would be considered unprecedented in Supreme Court history, but I guess Chris Matthews, Katie Couric, the New York Times, etc. forgot to inform you.

One fact that is becoming evident that abortion-on-demand is not such a great thing for women. Abortion has left many women emotionally and sometimes physically scarred. Campaigns such as Silent No More and Women Deserve Better are tapping into this hidden anguish.

Also evident is the effect on our society, with conflicting attitudes on how we treat not only the unborn, but also the sick, disabled and elderly. Consider the heart wrenching case of the judicially imposed death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Abortion has torn marriages and families apart, and led to a hardened and increasingly violent culture. The raging debate over embryonic stem cell research and human cloning shows the growing risk posed by a disregard for the dignity of every human life.

So, we have had for the past thirty seven years, a culture that in some ways has grown cynical, forgoing the promise of a hopeful future for instant gratification, or more often, the resignation to unimaginative 'solutions' that pit mother against child or people against the planet. One is reminded of a quote from the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere a ceremony of innocence was drowned."

These Supreme Court abortion decisions were assumed to have 'settled' the issue in our society. Yet much to the consternation of the pro-abortion establishment, the movement of concerned citizens to protect life has only grown in strength over the past thirty seven years. The prolife movement has pursued multiple paths: educating the public, lobbying and litigating for change, participating in politics, and especially reaching out to help women with unplanned pregnancies. On the political front, abortion is playing a pivotal role in the debate over health care legislation. Polling data consistently indicates that, even when economic or other issues determine the outcome of an election, those voters that consider abortion decisive in their voting swing overwhelmingly for the prolife candidates. Presidents, economic cycles and other national controversies come and go, but the struggle for life goes on.

Particularly significant is that the change in public attitudes on abortion is most striking among young people (who've lost peers they've never met). This is manifested in polling results and an upsurge of prolife activism among teens and college students, much to the consternation of their professors and, in some cases, their parents. Sort of adds a new twist to some lyrics from the sixties by Buffalo Springfield:
"Young people speaking their minds, Getting so much resistance from behind."

So the buses are starting to roll, as thousands from distant states once again journey to Washington, where many will gather in prayer the night before or the morning of the March. Then we will rally and march, knowing that those we are trying to defend would some day defend our nation, write great literature, cure disease, compose stirring music, and explore and begin to settle the Solar System.

But more than for their potential accomplishments, we speak out for them simply because of the inherent dignity of each of their lives. In so doing we are responding to a great calling as individuals and as a civilization. And we'll continue to speak and march and work and pray, confident in the hope that, one of these years, we'll no longer face the cold winds. Instead, we'll gather on a warm spring day to celebrate the inclusion of the youngest in the human family within the protection of the law.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Revolution's Here!!

The calls are coming in from AP and other sources: Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts senate race! This really changes the political landscape, especially compared to the Obama inaugural euphoria of one year ago tomorrow.

This has big implications for the 2010 general elections and beyond, but the most immediate impact will be on the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care monstrosity (in its various mutations) now before Congress. Losing their "super majority" 60th vote, the Democratic leadership will have to consider whether to back off on pushing their ambitious plans or resort to desperate measures to try to ram a health care bill through.

Mark Steyn celebrates the "chowdah revolution". Once again, the people have spoken and political winds have shifted direction once again. May those winds shift across the land, including here in Maryland. There is new hope in the air in the wake of change we can believe in.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Catastrophe

The death, suffering and devastation following Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti is just too overwhelming to describe. Aid from the US and around the world has been pouring in but distribution has been slowed by Haiti's damaged port and roads and congestion at the airport at Port-au-Prince.

Catholic Relief Services and many other major organizations are collecting emergency donations over the Internet.

Satellite imagery is being used to guide rescue efforts amid the devastation in Haiti.

The Circus Opens while the People Rally

The Circus on the Severn (aka the Maryland General Assembly) opened on Wednesday in Annapolis for its 90 day 2010 run. Meanwhile, a large grassroots rally drew a large crowd of citizens on a cold night to express frustration with excessive government taxing, spending and regulation. (Baltimore Sun article here) (I was there, but I didn't have my camera with me this time so none of my own pics.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Battle of Lexington and Concord

Actually, it's happening in the whole state of Massachusetts and could be decisive for the future of our whole Republic. I've just made a contribution to Scott Brown (link here), the Republican candidate who has a fighting chance of winning the late Ted Kennedy's US Senate seat. Today was a big day to rally nationwide support to Brown's campaign, though if you read this later this week, I'm sure contributions are still welcome.

Kathryn Jean Lopez points out that while Brown is, strictly speaking, not prolife, the differences between him and his opponent on pending life issues, particularly the pending health care vote, make support for Brown a licit and prudent position.
I understand completely the desire for political leaders who will defend what really is the human-rights issue of our day in the United States. With Scott Brown, you are not going to get the next Rick Santorum, a leader in the Senate for the most defenseless. But you will, if what he says and what he’s done are indications, get a vote with you more often than not.

While I don't have the time to look up the exact reference, Ms. Lopez's position is consistent with that of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae where he says it is licit to vote for an imperfect candidate or piece of legislation if it advances the cause of life in the right direction.

Blogs for Life!

I've just signed up for the Blogs for Life 2010 conference to be held on the morning of January 22 in Washington DC. After the conference, participants will then walk down to the Mall to participate in the March for Life.

Media Misses the Real Prolife Story

Jack Cashill, producer of the powerful video Thine Eyes, writes about how many of the conventional media sources overlook the real story of the prolife movement while seeming to portray abortion opponents as similar to one twisted violent individual. If you get most of your impression of the abortion dispute from the formerly mainstream media, Mr. Cashill's piece will give you a whole different perspective.

Failure to Connect the Dots

As a casual blogger with a day job and slow typing fingers, I sometimes take several days to catch up with events. Therefore, I'm going to say nothing about whatever Harry Reid said about Barack Obama, because it is trivial compared to recent events concerning national security.

Last Thursday, a White House directed report responding to the Christmas day attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 concluded that the intelligence community failed to "connect the dots" in putting all the pieces of information and analysis together. President Obama announced his response in a series of steps to prevent such lapses in the future.

The President appears to be starting to come to grips with a reality far different than that perceived in the liberal lala land which formed much of his political career. Mark Steyn points out that that world view has put us into a a dangerous position in the world and that voters should have given that more consideration over a year ago.
According to one poll, 58 percent of Americans are in favor of waterboarding young Umar Farouk. Well, you should have thought about that before you made a community organizer president of the world’s superpower. The election of Barack Obama was a fundamentally unserious act by the U.S. electorate, and you can’t blame the world’s mischief-makers, from Putin to Ahmadinejad to the many Gitmo recidivists now running around Yemen, from drawing the correct conclusion.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Star of Wonder

Well timed with this week's developments in space and astronomy, Pope Benedict XVI offers an Epiphany reflection on how the Wise Men illustrate the complementary nature of faith and reason.
The Wise Men are "models of genuine seekers of truth," "men of science ... observing the cosmos", but open "to further revelations and the divine call". Benedict XVI has taken a cue from the Feast of the Epiphany - which commemorates the journey of the Three Kings from the East following a star, until their encounter with Baby Jesus in Bethlehem - to repeat his call for collaboration between science and faith, for harmony between human research and divine truth.

A Stellar Week in Astronomy

(Please click on this image for enlargement.)

Several developments on our knowledge of the Universe:

- A new Hubble Ultra Deep Field imaged in the infrared was released on Tuesday. The imagery was taken by the Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed on Hubble during the STS-125 servicing mission last May.

- The Kepler space observatory, launched last March, has revealed five new exoplanets (planets around other stars). These newly discovered worlds are large objects comparable to Jupiter in size. It will take a longer period of time for the spacecraft to detect Earth sized planets.

- The WISE space telescope, launched in December, has its first image released. The goal of this mission is to map the whole sky for faint objects.

- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issues a strong endorsement for science and for human space exploration (hopefully reflecting coming Obama Administration policy).

What Promises?

C-SPAN chief executive Brian Lamb requests that negotiations on a final health care bill be open to live TV coverage, as President Obama promised multiple times during the 2008 campaign. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismisses those promises of openness as she can't be bothered with informing the American people on the dubious legislation that would affect all of our health care.

The Iceman Cometh

For your entertainment during this frigid winter: a talking 4,000 lb. Al Gore ice sculpture. (Hat tip to Climate Depot)

Happy New Year...

...and Happy New Decade. Or not?

Eugene Volokh looks at the nuances of this debate.