Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Years Turns

As we complete another year, that measure of our shared trip around the Solar System together, we look back on another one that once again seems to outdo the previous years in total strangeness, though there are always signs of hope.

In the Middle East and North Africa, is it an "Arab Spring" or a new terrible Dark Age? On the first day in May, a beloved Pope is elevated closer to sainthood while the world's most notorious terrorist leader meets his violent end.

Economic uncertainty and unemployment and the ongoing conflicts about protection of human life and other fundamental cultural issues persisted through 2011 and will continue into 2012.

While there have been many pleasant days to remember, there was an earthquake, hurricane and heavy rains from a former hurricane all within a couple of weeks along the Mid-Atlantic coast. More destructive forces struck in the form of tornadoes in the Southern and Midwestern US, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and flooding in other parts of the world along with ongoing drought and famine in East Africa.

Off-planet, new worlds being uncovered, particularly by the Kepler mission, are becoming more common and more varied. The Space Shuttle era came to a nostalgic end with its final successful missions to the International Space Station, which will carry on with the assistance of an emerging commercial space sector that will likely become more prominent in 2012.

The race for the GOP presidential nomination has been the most topsy-turvy campaign that I can remember, with front-runners rising and falling almost by the month as the strengths and weaknesses of each are assessed. There's a lot of angst among the voters as many yearn for a redo on that "Hope & Change" thing from the last time around.

So be safe and happy as we enter a new year. And with God's blessing, let's get ready for an exciting 2012 as another opportunity to advance a culture of life, a new birth of freedom and an expanding frontier.

Friday, December 23, 2011

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

Two Christmas Favorites

Here are two stirringly beautiful Christmas music videos by Enya and Trans-Siberian Orchestra I've posted the last couple of years and would like to share again.

Trans Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Canon

shadow | MySpace Video

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soyuz Launches Crew to ISS

Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

A Soyuz spacecraft was launched today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying three more crew members to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS will be back to a full crew of six which will carry out new activities including commercial cargo delivery demonstrations in the new year.

The launch occurred on the 43rd anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8. While now often thought of a mainly a precursor to the Apollo 11 landing the following summer, Apollo 8 was an epic voyage in itself as it was the first time humans had left the immediate vicinity of Earth to approach and orbit the Moon for the first time. This first visit to the Moon at Christmas time 1968 was a particularly memorable event.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NASA Science: New Discovery and New Boss

Scientists with NASA's Kepler mission today announced the confirmation of the discovery of two Earth-sized planets around another star. However, the two exoplanets are too close to their sun to be hospitable to life (as we know it anyway).

Meanwhile, the new head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate has plenty of "hands-on" experience in repairing and upgrading scientific spacecraft in orbit. Former astronaut John Grunsfeld helped to service the Hubble Space Telescope on three different Shuttle missions.

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 some very dark anti-human views of the future vs. 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 has 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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Commercial Space Developments Gaining Speed

A team of major space industry players announced yesterday that they are developing a new launch system that would launch cargo and eventually people from what will be the world's largest aircraft. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is financing the innovative Stratolaunch space transportation venture, which has the potential of helping to lower launch costs. Here is a video of how a launch would be carried out.

Meanwhile, another commercial launch vehicle has taken on a new name, the Antares. This vehicle will see its first test launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport possibly as early as February 2012.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Last Night's Debate: Context on Lunar Mining and Commercial Space

NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt

In a curious exchange in last night's GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney attacked Newt Gingrich's previously stated position favoring the enabling of a lunar mining industry. Gingrich strongly defended his position in a general way (as Romney brought up multiple issues in one statement).

A video clip of that portion of the debate is linked here.

For many politically minded viewers, the topic of lunar mining must have seemed a rather curious topic to come up in a presidential debate. However, among a community of entrepreneurs, scientists and space planners, the potential use of resources from the Moon and other celestial bodies is a very real possibility.

Evidence going back to the soil samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts to data obtained from robotic probes recently sent by the US and other nations indicate the presence of useful resources on and in the Moon. Evidence of significant amounts of lunar water (in the form of ice) has been detected in recent years. Lunar scientist Paul Spudis envisions a plan to extract this water and break it down into its constituents hydrogen and oxygen to provide fuel for propelling vital space assets.
By having a system where the vehicles are refueled from the resources extracted on the Moon, a system is created that routinely accesses the Moon and allows for returning to Earth, but all the other points in between can be accessed as well.

"We create a transportation system that accesses all those points between Earth and Moon. The significance of that is, much of our satellite assets reside there," said Spudis, "for example communication satellites and weather monitoring satellites reside in geosynchronous orbit, (about 36,000 km above the Earth’s equator) and right now we cannot reach that from low Earth orbit. If we have system that can routinely go back and forth to the Moon, we could also go to these high orbits where a lot of commercial and national security assets are."

Other experts describe resources on the Moon that could help America and the world access new energy sources. Perhaps most significantly, President George W. Bush's science adviser, the late John Marburger, saw the Moon and other bodies in the Solar System as a part of our economic sphere.
As I see it, questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not. Our national policy, declared by President Bush and endorsed by Congress last December in the NASA authorization act, affirms that, "The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program." So at least for now the question has been decided in the affirmative.

Gingrich's ideas for creating incentives for commercial space activities include tax breaks and prizes, but do not appear to include corporate preferences such as Solyndra-style loan guarantees. (Gingrich's space policy proposals are seen as too radical by some in the space industry, but that is another whole discussion.)

I hope that Gingrich will have the opportunity to further explain his space policy proposals during the campaign and I hope that Romney and the other candidates will take the time to become more informed on this area.

Along with tax reduction and simplification and regulatory reform, enabling new industries including commercial space is an integral part of a pro-growth agenda. The national security implications of space leadership can not be ignored. And human expansion into and development of space can also contribute to a culture of life by providing resources for future generations (as opposed to posing threats to life and liberty by dealing with supposed resource shortages through "population control").

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

More Discoveries of Planets around Other Stars

Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

More progress announced this week of the Kepler mission's discoveries of candidate exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than our sun). One of these, Kepler-22b, is in the "habitable zone", where temperatures would allow the presence of liquid water, enhancing the possibility of life existing there.

Here are the NASA web article and additional links from

Monday, December 05, 2011

2,000 for Life in Germantown, MD

An estimated 2,000 people participated in a large, peaceful vigil this morning marking the first anniversary of Leroy Carhart's notorious late term abortion practice in Germantown, MD. Here are a few pictures I took at the event.

An important link for life

Prayerful participants line Wisteria Drive outside the office park where Carhart's facility is located.

Some of the ~720 crosses representing each of the unborn babies killed here in the past year (and an equal number of women brutalized by the procedures)

This picture speaks for itself.

And here are video highlights. (Please pardon my unsteady hand. If the shaky video gets on your nerves, just minimize the video and listen to the powerful words and singing.)

Participants sing "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace"

Dr. Grace Morrison introduces the vigil program and Rev. Charlie Baile leads a prayer.

Dr. Grace Morrison goes on to eloquently describe the grim situation and the purpose and importance of the vigil.

Rev. Marcel Guarnizo describes a stark historical perspective to what happens in Germantown, MD.