Monday, December 31, 2012

Putting Another Year Behind Us

As we are about to turn the calendar on another year, it's been quite a ride, leaving more questions than answers. The year began with a contentious start of a GOP presidential primary season, a growing struggle over life, conscience and religious liberty, and continued economic uncertainty. The year ended with Barack Obama re-elected for a second term, Congress divided roughly as it was before, and contentious battles over the looming "fiscal cliff", debt limits, and the overall vision of the economy.

The world continues to be on edge as old dictators in the Middle East give way to what may be even more extreme militant Islamist regimes. The attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya resulting in the death of the US Ambassador and three others sparked new doubts about the administration's handling of foreign and military affairs and about America's place in the world.

Violence struck closer to home with shootings by disturbed individuals at a movie theater in Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at an elementary school in Newtown , CT (including the deaths of twenty young children) renewing the debate over gun control v. more guns in the hands of responsible citizens, mental health issues, and whether the cultural and moral directions of our society are to blame and whether or how those directions can be changed.

Advances in science, technology and medicine appear to be continuing apace. The announcement of an apparent confirmation of the Higgs Boson, a fundamental elementary particle of matter, and the continuing discovery of a variety of candidate planets around other stars, highlight the basic discoveries. The landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, the initiation of commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, and the announcements of a number of bold ventures to increase access to space and its abundant resources indicate the human expansion into space may proceed in the midst of economic uncertainty.

In the midst of all the good and bad, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faith that will extend through most of 2013 to spark renewed faith in God among Christians throughout the world during a time of increased secularization and uncertainty. Faith is something we'll need plenty of as we deal with issues of life, liberty, economic uncertainty and expanding frontiers in the new year and beyond.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

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'm posting again this year.

Trans Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Canon
shadow | MySpace Video

Monday, December 10, 2012

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.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Golden Spike Company Announces Lunar Venture

Golden Spike Company illustration of how it would send people to the Moon using existing launch vehicles and proven technologies to reduce the cost of the trip.

On the cusp of the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 17, the last of the initial human expeditions to the Moon, a new commercial venture was announced today that could take humans back to the Moon within less than ten years. (More links here.)

The Golden Spike Company plans to use existing launch vehicles and capabilities as much as possible to make the cost more affordable. A new lander to take people to the lunar surface will be required, though the experience gained from the Apollo program plus new technology developed by various NASA and private ventures, including those vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, could aid this effort.

Golden Spike consists of an impressive list of leaders and advisors, some having experience with the Apollo missions. One advisor, former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has long advocated for entrepreneurial approaches to advancing America's activities in space. This was my analysis of his proposed lunar venture during this year's presidential primaries.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Science From Mars And Mercury

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
This is a view of two of the trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012 at a site called Rocknest.

NASA made its much anticipated announcement of results from the first months of exploration of Mars by the Curiosity rover on Monday. The results are intriguing, if not yet so "earthshaking" as some recent speculation had indicated. There is still some question as to where the interesting compounds detected originated from. The performance of the rover and its science instruments are not in question, and NASA today announced plans to send a similar design of rover to Mars in 2020 to continue exploration of that planet.

Meanwhile, new discoveries on the planet Mercury were announced last week. The findings include deposits of water ice and traces of organic compounds at the planet's polar regions.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent 2012

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming celebration of our Savior's coming at Christmas. To mark the beginning of this season, Here are Pope Benedict XVI's remarks from his weekly Angelus address today and a video (~23 min) I first posted last year of a group from Christendom College singing on the Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome. (Thanks to RealCatholicTV.)

Catching Up With Planetary Explorers

Long overdue, I've added links to three major planetary exploration missions to my sidebar. Check out the links for MESSENGER (orbiting Mercury), Dawn (having explored asteroid Vesta, now en route to asteroid Ceres) and Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory - the sophisticated rover now exploring Mars).