Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ringing Out 2013

The year 2013 has surely equaled or surpassed other recent years in crazy, ominous, and sometimes positive developments.

President Barack Obama used his second inauguration to declare his intention to continue pursuing a "progressive" agenda. However, the usual presidential second term blues seemed to come on even faster and more intense than usual as the conversation turned to the the alphabet soup of scandals involving the use of the IRS in impeding political opposition and the revelation of the expansion of the NSA's information gathering to include possibly electronic communications made by anyone. And then there is still the ongoing question of what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

In October, the partial 'shutdown' of the federal government resulted from deadlocks in Congress and with the Administration over Obamacare, spending and the debt. After the dust settled, it became apparent that Obamacare is every bit the "train wreck" that had been foreseen by many.

International developments included the bloody conflict and gruesome terrorism in Syria and other places and Iran's inching toward possession of nuclear weapons, while China and Russia each sought to reassert superpower status. Weakness in US leadership is not a good thing especially in light of these ominous developments.

Natural disasters were as frequent as ever, from tornadoes and winter storms in the US to the devastating hurricane in the Philippines, along with others that have slipped my mind at the moment.

Developments in science, technology and medicine continued to advance. Expansion into space continued, including the quickening pace on the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast (highlights from April and September), the demonstration of robotic refueling technology and another company announcing an asteroid prospecting/mining venture. The appearance of an exploding small asteroid over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February was a clear reminder that whether or not we go into space, space will come to us.

The other startling event in February was the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI of his resignation from the papacy, the first in ~600 years. His successor, Pope Francis has brought an informality and "hands-on" style that has captured the world's attention. While some hope for and others fear radical changes, there is a fundamental continuity between Francis and his predecessors. Most important is his reminder that our hope is in Jesus Christ and in the Father's Love that will sustain us as we enter into the perilous yet promising year of 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

A special day set aside in our nation to give thanks to God for all His gifts to us.

Thanksgiving has a long history in our country, but the theme of giving thanks goes much further back in history, as recorded in the Bible. Two articles point out this significance as Thanksgiving this year is in an extremely rare coincidence with Hanakkah and the end of this Thanksgiving weekend coincides with the First Sunday of Advent.

Have a good time with family and friends and don't eat any more than I would. ;-)

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. It is especially appropriate this year as Hanukkah actually coincides with Thanksgiving on the calendar.)

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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

President John F. Kennedy addressing Congress on May 25, 1961 on reaching the Moon within the decade. Credit: NASA

In the Fall of 1963, I was in third grade. On that Friday afternoon, my class first heard the principal's announcement that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Being in Catholic school, we immediately began saying Hail Marys. Shortly after, came the announcement that the President had died, more prayers and my teacher, Sr. Mary Alphonse, saying that we would see this event in our history books.

President Kennedy's Administration made history with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the partial nuclear test ban treaty, the Peace Corps, civil rights and, of course, the reach for the Moon.

Like any historical figure, Kennedy was a complex person in turbulent times. We later learned of the extent of his medical problems and of his personal moral flaws. At the same time, he showed the leadership skills to inspire American citizens to aspire to public service either formally, by entering government, or by in whatever way asking "what you can do for your country".

The world was in a tense situation with the Cold War at that time. However the nation's recent experience in winning World War II, the post-war prosperity, the growing attention to civil rights for all Americans, and the dawning of the Space Age combined to generate a "can-do" spirit in society. This spirit of the time enabled JFK to ascend to leadership as much as his leadership helped further that spirit.

We can only speculate what would have occurred had there been no shooting in Dallas and JFK had completed one or two terms as president. In the tensions of our present day, may we not forget that crises can bring forth leadership that can find opportunities for accomplishment. May we never forget that our future as a nation and as human civilization depends on adhering to or recapturing the fundamental values of faith, life, liberty and human dignity that have enabled our advancement so far.

Finally, the sudden death of a young leader fifty years ago reminds us of the fleetingness and uncertainty of our temporal lives. May we be always mindful of the eternal things promised by God when our time of faithfully living each of our temporal lives comes to an end.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

September Mid-Atlantic Space Coast Launches Accomplish Their Missions

The anticipated historic launches from the Wallops Island, VA in September occurred successfully and have gone on to carrying out successful missions. NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, pronounced like "laddie") mission began on September 6 with a spectacular night-time launch that was visible throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic region. LADEE has gone on to enter orbit around the Moon to begin carrying out its science mission and to test a powerful new method of laser communication that has already demonstrated the highest data downlink rate from beyond Earth orbit. Here is a NASA video of the launch.

Meanwhile, the demonstration flight of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) launched on September 18 on an Antares rocket and successfully docked with the ISS where the crew unloaded cargo included on this demo mission and loaded trash no longer needed aboard the station. This week, Cygnus departed the ISS and reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up over the Pacific Ocean as planned. The successful mission clears the way for Orbital Sciences Corporation to carry out a contract for eight more cargo delivery missions to the ISS. Here is my amateur video of this launch. (I had to end the video as the rocket approached the Sun's glare.)

I was able to witness both launches in person. For the LADEE night launch, I stayed in Chincoteague, VA. For the Cygnus launch, my sister and I drove down from Ocean City, MD that morning (~1 hour drive) to watch the spectacular launch and were able to get back to Ocean City in time for a mid-afternoon bay cruise. Visiting the Wallops spaceport and watching a launch can be an exciting part of an Eastern Shore vacation.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass

Twelve years ago this, I overheard a coworker down the hall from my office telling someone else about planes hitting the World Trade Center. I checked in on the Internet and on news radio for reports on what would develop into the the modern era's day of infamy. We know of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but there was also the attack that did not occur because of the heroic actions of the passengers on United Flight 93.

Twelve years of daily living, along with increasing domestic rancor, may have dimmed the feelings of shock, horror, and outrage and the response of prayer, compassion, and resolve that united the people of America and most of the world. However, terrorist activity around the world should serve to remind us that the threat is still real.

This anniversary stirs abundant remembrance and reflection and many stirring pictorial and video items have appeared on the web and on Facebook. I still find this audio/visual Internet presentation developed by a New Yorker shortly after the attacks as one of the most powerful portrayals of those times. The sequence is ~15 minutes long and some of the images and sounds are quite disturbing, others are inspirational. (Use the browser View/Zoom function and adjust the scroll bar to enlarge the slide show.)

It is important that we remember, not only to honor those who died and those who acted heroically that day, but to remain constantly aware of the ongoing dangers, of the presence of real evil in the hearts of some people, and to maintain constant vigilance and a determination to defeat this evil. Finally, we must always remember to trust in God and his mercy during trying times. The story of the cross formed by two beams found among the ruins of the twin towers is recounted here.

While the number of casualties were much lower than in 2001, we should also remember that, one year ago, four Americans were killed by terrorists attacking the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya. We owe it to them and their families, as well as for the future security of our country, to hold our leaders accountable for whatever happened there, which still has not been sufficiently revealed.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Historic September on the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast

The Antares rocket on its test launch to orbit on April 21, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

September along the Mid-Atlantic shore usually means smaller crowds and lower lodging rates even as the air and water temperatures still hold on to summer warmth. This September, however, history will be made on the Delmarva Peninsula as two historic launches take place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, VA. Wallops Island is situated within easy driving distance of millions of residents of Washington, DC, Baltimore and other east coast cities. The spaceport is located close to popular vacation destinations including Chincoteague, VA, known for its wild pony population, and Ocean City, MD, the popular family beach resort.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is scheduled to be launched on a Minotaur V rocket on Friday September 6 at 11:27 PM. The night launch will be visible for hundreds of miles from several states around the launch site (weather permitting).

LADEE will be the first spacecraft to be launched to the Moon (or anywhere else beyond Earth orbit) from Wallops Island. NASA describes LADEE as “a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.”

The LADEE liftoff may not be the last deep space launch from Wallops. A number of commercial ventures have plans to prospect and eventually mine resources of the Moon and the asteroids and might chose the Virginia launch site for some of their missions.

Around September 17, late morning, Orbital Sciences Corporation is scheduled to launch its first Cygnus spacecraft on its demonstration mission to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). If this mission is successful, Orbital will proceed to launch at least eight cargo missions to the ISS over the next several years (joining SpaceX, another company that launches its ISS cargo runs from Florida). The Cygnus cargo ship will be launched on Orbital’s new Antares rocket, which was successfully launched on its test launch in April. NASA has been seeking American companies to launch cargo, and eventually crewmembers, to the ISS to fill the role provided by the Space Shuttle program, which was retired two years ago.

These missions being launched from Wallops Island in September may be a harbinger of more activity to come. The Cygnus cargo launches are part of NASA’s strategy of acting more as a customer for commercial launch services to Earth orbit while it focuses on exploring more distant destinations.

However, these launches to the ISS are by no means dull. Some of the cargo going to the ISS includes experiments that will test new technologies in communications, propulsion, in-space refueling and servicing, etc. that will allow more bold future activities in space. Other experiments will have benefits here on Earth including observation of the Earth and its environment and groundbreaking research for the biotechnology industry that could improve peoples’ health and well-being. Also, small satellites called “CubeSats” built by students, researchers and industry frequently piggyback on these launches for a much lower cost than that of launching traditional larger satellites.

No launches of people are currently planned for Wallops, but as commercial space activity grows, that could change. The spaceport’s launch pads and runways could someday see crewmembers, researchers and tourists departing for and returning from space.

In the mean time, the growing space activity will benefit the Delmarva coast and the whole Mid-Atlantic region. High tech industry and jobs are growing around the launch site and tourism at the spaceport converges with that at the traditional nearby beach resorts. The spaceport will also provide nearby access to space for the government, industry and academic research institutions in the DC/Baltimore area and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region.

It is possible to participate in the excitement happening on the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast by including a visit to the Wallops spaceport as part of your shore vacation any time of year. Launches will be visible for hundreds of miles away under favorable conditions, but to really see, hear and feel the power of a launch into space, the best option is to come to the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast and witness it close up.

For more information on these upcoming launches, please check these links:

NASA Wallops Flight Facility

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS)

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Lodging is available in Chincoteague, VA, Pocomoke, MD, Ocean City, MD and other nearby towns in Virginia and Maryland.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The NewSpace conference, where cutting edge developments in the space industry will be discussed, is underway in San Jose, CA. For those of us who can't be there in person, the sessions are being streamed live. (Here is the agenda.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

World Youth Day 2013

Up to a million pilgrims are expected to join Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013 now occurring to energize the world's young people for Christ. (Despite the title, it is actually a several day event.)

Here is the official web site. WYD is also being covered by EWTN.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Anniversaries: One Great, One More Modest


Today is the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 pioneering expedition to the lunar surface, the day human beings first made landfall on another world. Check out Rand Simberg's ceremonial commemoration of that epic voyage. Here is a brief video capturing highlights of the first two explorers on the Moon.

Here is a tribute to Neil Armstrong, who took the first human steps on the Moon.

Today is also the tenth anniversary ('blogiversary') of the launch of this humble blog. Here is the inaugural post (Note that I was too inexperienced to think of giving it a title.) on Life at the Frontier.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

As It Happened, the Apollo 11 Launch

Forty four years ago today, Apollo 11 lifted off on the voyage to land the first men on the Moon. Here's a replay of what it looked like on TV from ~6 min before 'til ~4 min after launch. (The video quality is somewhat degraded from that of the live TV broadcast.) The terse, crisp voice of Jack King as Apollo Launch Control added to the drama of the historic countdown. Relive the moment or experience what it was like.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

As we join in the festivities of the Fourth, let's strive to keep to the values proclaimed in the Declaration that make it worth celebrating.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is a time to be mindful and protective of the full range of personal, religious and economic liberties. Some additional thoughts from around the web remind us of the significance of some words from the second stanza of America the Beautiful and thoughts on the Stars and Stripes from a famous Catholic English writer.
Wow. Think about that line: "by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." Have you ever thought about your flag that way - so Christ-like? G. K. Chesterton did. It’s a stirring interpretation of America and its mission.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Provide Your Input On Human Spaceflight

NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt
The National Research Council has appointed an ad hoc committee to study the future of human spaceflight. The committee is looking for input from the public. For more information and links to instructions on how to submit a paper (no more than 4 pages of text) by the July 9 deadline, click here.

I have already submitted my paper, which can also be found with the papers submitted by other interested persons at this public viewing site.

Here is the abstract for my submitted paper.
The ultimate goal of a human spaceflight program should be to enable the development of human migration into and settlement of space. A government program can’t make settlement happen. However, by spurring the development of spacefaring capabilities that serve near term needs, the human spaceflight program will help to develop the knowledge and capabilities that explorers, developers and settlers will use to expand humanity into space.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Future Getting Nearer

Following on the heels of the Antares launch from the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast, several other new developments point to an accelerating pace toward a new space age where space travel becomes more common and more a part of the everyday economy.

The most prominent was Monday's successful first powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo by Virgin Galactic. The test integrated the performance of the spacecraft with its hybrid rocket engine and paves the way to succeeding flights where the engine will burn longer, taking the spacecraft higher. Virgin Galactic expects the flights will reach the altitude defined internationally as the edge of space (100km/62.5mi) by the end of the year. Once the test program is complete, the company plans to begin commercial flights of tourists and researchers early next year. Here is a video of highlights of the flight with commentary by Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.

In a couple of other developments, there was a recent flight extending the performance of SpaceX's Grasshopper test vehicle, which is an experimental rocket being tested to develop the capability for a reusable booster for carrying payloads into orbit. Finally, on Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force performed the final test of the X51A hypersonic vehicle succesfully. This type of propulsion could have some interesting military, civil and commercial applications including possibly faster intercontinental travel and another way to reach orbit.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Antares Launch, The Mid-Atlantic Space Coast And The 21st Century Space Age

The Antares rocket clears the launch pad on its way to orbit. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Sunday's launch of the Antares rocket, developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation, was a significant step toward achieving NASA's goal of acquiring a second American provider of commercial delivery of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).  It was also a significant step for the Mid-Atlantic region, in particular the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland, in participating in the the growing 21st Century Space Age which is based on increased partnership among commercial, government and international players.

Orbital will now proceed to a demonstration of its Cygnus spacecraft delivering cargo to the ISS, tentatively scheduled for late June. The Cygnus demonstration will complete NASA's  Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and Orbital will then join another company, SpaceX, in providing this service over the next several years under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. NASA is also partnering with several companies, including SpaceX, to develop commercial crew transportation to ISS, however Orbital has no plans to compete to provide that service.

This launch was a significant step not only for the Antares rocket and the commercial supply of cargo to ISS. It opens a wider future to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), colocated at the NASA facility at Wallops Island, VA. Located on the Eastern Shore shared by Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility has hosted suborbital and small orbital launches for decades, but Antares is the largest rocket ever to launch from this site and is comparable to the medium lift rockets that have frequently launched from  Cape Canaveral, FL.

Along with providing cargo resupply to the ISS, Orbital hopes to market the Antares to other government and commercial customers, launching out of Wallops and other sites. Meanwhile, the company will use its Minotaur V rocket to launch NASA's LADEE spacecraft to orbit the Moon. This mission is scheduled to launch from Wallops in August.

With a growing list of private ventures to explore the Moon, asteroids and even Mars, the MARS at Wallops Island is in a position to participate in these ventures. The runway at Wallops could also eventually host suborbital companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR carrying researchers and tourists into space for brief flights.

The area around Wallops includes Chincoteague, a laid back resort town most famous for the wild ponies residing on the nearby wildlife refuge. The surrounding area is largely rural and is facing trying economic times. The communities are excited about the new business and jobs the spaceport is bringing to the area. Other nearby Virginia and Maryland communities, including Ocean City, MD, a major family vacation resort, stand to benefit from the high tech jobs and additional tourism the spaceport will generate.

This area could become known as the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast as the activity and excitement at Wallops Island grow in the new and dynamic 21st Century Space Age.

NOTE: I observed the launch on Sunday from a site ~ 3 miles from the launch pad. Here is the amateur video I took of this historic launch. The first noise you hear is the wind, but the rocket's roar can be heard after launch.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

FY2014 Budget And Asteroid Retrieval

Asteroid retrieval mission concept: Image Credit: NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab

More than two months overdue, the Obama Administration released its FY2014 budget proposal yesterday. The proposed budget is already being picked over from left and right over its priorities and levels of spending and taxes.

The proposed budget for NASA is $17.7 billion, covering a range of programs including human and robotic exploration International Space Station (ISS) and associated commercial crew and cargo resupply, Earth science, aeronautics, technology development, etc. The most intriguing item is a new program to go and retrieve a small asteroid and park it in a stable orbit near or around the Moon, where it could be more easily accessed by astronauts to investigate the object hands-on. This proposal has the support of the two major asteroid mining ventures, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, provided NASA engages the commercial sector in a major way in carrying out this mission.

Some lawmakers are skeptical about the asteroid retrieval proposal, saying they'd prefer more emphasis on a return to the Moon. Achievement of either of these goals would probably depend on NASA engaging the private sector in a large way, as it has done for ISS cargo resupply and crew transfer, in order to accomplish missions at lower costs in what may be a long term tight fiscal environment.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Sine Die: The Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned last night after its ninety-day rampage. Governor Martin O'Malley was eager to start signing the torrent of legislation. Higher taxes and gun control are two of the high - err, mostly low-lights of this year's ninety-day session.

The repeal of the death penalty is one move I tend to support because its deterrent effect is doubtful while the risk of executing the innocent is real. While the death penalty may not be essential to defending members of society, allowing them to defend themselves and others through exercising their Second Amendment rights is essential. The Second Amendment v. gun control question will remain among the most contentious issues in the state and in the nation.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Have a Blessed and Happy Easter!

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
"Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day."
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Lk 24:1-12

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week 2013

This week is the one considered Holy by many with a strong Faith in God. For Christians, it is the observance of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the most pivotal events of human history. The Easter Triduum as observed in the Catholic Church is described here. Today, Pope Francis began Holy Week observances with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square

This year, it also happens that tomorrow (Monday) night is the start of the Jewish observance of Passover, the celebration of the Jews' passing over to freedom from the bondage of slavery they suffered in Egypt. This event was a historical manifestation of God's power recognized by Jews and Christians alike.

May this week of Holy Days bring blessings and peace to all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy Saint Patrick's Day


Artist unknown, Link by Saints.SQPN.com

Today is March 17, St. Patrick's Day. Be blessed, safe, and happy however you are celebrating Ireland's patron saint.

Catholic Forum provides links to descriptions of St. Patrick here and here.

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort me and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

In the spirit of the holiday, check out LiveIreland.com for webcasts of Irish music and other media direct from Ireland.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Habemus Papam! Pope Francis

After the historic retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the election of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina as Pope Francis was announced on Wednesday. He is the first non-European pope in centuries, the first from the Western Hemisphere and the first from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known for his pastoral approach of living simply, serving the poor, and strongly and faithfully speaking out for the Church's teachings on the moral issues of the day, including protection of human life, the definition of marriage, etc. Perhaps most of all, his election confirms the emergence of a proactive approach of Catholic evangelism to spread the Gospel of Christ globally in the face of increasing secularism.

Thanks be to God and may His blessings be on our new Holy Father!

This short video captures the highlights and excitement of the election of Pope Francis.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inspiration Mars: A Most Audacious (But Perhaps Doable) Venture

Image: Inspiration Mars Foundation

In the last year or so, announcements of audacious space ventures by private business ventures and non-profit foundations have almost become common. However, today's announcement by space tourism pioneer Dennis Tito of the Inspiration Mars Foundation and its goal of sending an American man and woman (likely a married couple) on a nearly year-and-a-half mission to fly by Mars and return to Earth in 2018 may be the most breath-taking venture yet announced.

Using existing or nearly ready capabilities enables Inspiration Mars to target the exceptionally favorable Mars launch window that will open in January 2018. The simple "free return" fly-by mission trajectory is a major reason this audacious plan may just be doable in five years.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Asteroids Getting Attention After Friday Encounters

P. Chodas (NASA/JPL) (Click on image for enlarged view.)

The topic of asteroids encountering the Earth have suddenly received plenty of media and public attention following Friday's explosion of a large meteor over Russia, injuring over a thousand people and causing significant property damage, and the previously expected close flyby of the larger asteroid 2012 DA14, later that afternoon. The two objects approached Earth from different directions so they are not directly related. However, both objects were rocks moving in space, so the Russian meteor was the size of a small asteroid before it entered the Earth's atmosphere.

The two events have brought increased attention and urgency to detection of potentially threatening asteroids and how they might be diverted from colliding with Earth. NASA does have an asteroid detection program underway, although asteroid 2012 DA14 was detected by a serious amateur telescope. Thousands of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been detected already, particularly the largest ones that would be most devastating, but the Russian incident shows that many objects capable of causing casualties and damage remain undetected. The situation is getting attention in Congress. Meanwhile, the private B612 Foundation is raising money to fund a spacecraft capable of detecting many more of these objects and two business ventures, Planetary Resources and Deep Space industries are planning to prospect and eventually mine asteroids for their resources that could immensely benefit the future human economy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Starts the Season of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season of preparation for the glorious celebration of Easter. Pope Benedict XVI calls people to return to God in the homily of his Ash Wednesday Mass, which will be his last public Mass as Pope.
"May the invitation to conversion, to 'return to God with all our heart,' resonate strongly in us," Pope Benedict said at St. Peter's Basilica on Ash Wednesday Feb. 13.

"Accepting his grace that makes us new men and women, with the surprising news that is participating in the very life of Jesus," he said during the Mass held at 5 p.m. local time.
The Holy Father also expressed gratitude during the emotional occasion as shown in this video.

One recent activity that has become aligned with Lent is the 40 Days for Life campaign, which organizes prayer vigils at local abortion facilities. I'll be participating in the event here in Silver Spring, MD.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict Retires

For the first time in about 600 years, a Pope has left the Chair of St. Peter by resignation rather than death. Pope Benedict startled the world this morning by announcing that he will be retiring from the papacy at the end of the month. This move was likely taken with much prayer and discernment by the Holy Father, as discussed in this article by William Fahey.

As can be expected, there is much speculation on who the papal successor would be. I have no clue as to who that may be, but I believe the Holy Spirit will guide the selection toward  someone able to lead the Church with vigor and moral clarity in proclaiming Jesus Christ in the face of hostility from much of our contemporary culture.

Woman Dies From Late-Term Abortion in Germantown, MD

It has been revealed that a young woman has died, along with her child, as a result of a late-term performed by LeRoy Carhart in Germantown, MD last week. Background on this terrible event, media links and an update on the Memorial Service held this morning are provided at Pray For Germantown. More details are provided by Jill Stanek.

Prolife leaders urge action to prevent Carhart from causing more deaths of women and their children.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Robotic Refueling Demonstration Success

The International Space Station's DEXTRE robot grasps the RRM hardware during the key demonstration last Thursday, Jan. 24.(Image from TV downlink/credit: NASA)

The latest project I worked on during my career achieved its major goal last week by demonstrating how an existing satellite would be refueled in orbit robotically. The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), sponsored by the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, used tools designed to remove caps and wires from valves used on existing satellites and then attached a hose that would allow the demonstration of refilling a satellite's fuel tanks. The demonstration was performed on hardware attached to the outside of the International Space Station.

The SSCO plans to follow up (pending funding by Congress) with an actual free flying spacecraft to demonstrate the capability on a couple of actual satellites currently near the end of their planned missions, with the ultimate goal being to turn the capability over to commercial industry for routine servicing of satellites.

More detail on the RRM demonstration can be found in these articles by SpaceflightNow.com and by NASASpaceflight.com.

Remembering Fallen Pioneers

NASA, the nation and the world are observing this week the anniversaries of human losses in spaceflight: Apollo 1 (forty six years ago Sunday, January 27), Challenger (twenty seven years ago yesterday, January 28), and Columbia (ten years ago this coming Friday, February 1).

Here is a link to a NASA multimedia presentation for today's Day of Remembrance.

NASA - Day of Remembrance

Alan Boyle has more on the impact of these tragedies on space exploration and links to media coverage of each event.

NASA celebrates its fallen astronauts

Sunday, January 27, 2013

March for Life 2013

This year's March for Life held on Friday may have been the largest ever despite cold temperatures and a light snowfall that started as the March reached the Supreme Court. Hundreds of thousands came from great distances to join together to call for protection of preborn human lives forty years after those lives were disregarded by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Hundreds of thousands surge along Constitution Ave. up Capitol Hill to stand for protecting the smallest among us.

The March for Life Banner leads the March along Constitution Ave.

Women and men wounded by abortion proclaim that they are "Silent No More"!

The young "ProLife Generation" was out in force proclaiming the goal of abolishing abortion.

The facade of the Supreme Court, with its proclamation "Equal Justice Under Law", is currently veiled for renovation. May the veil of imposed abortion on demand in this nation fall so that that proclamation may become more real.

In the morning of the March, I attended the annual ProLifeCon, a social media conference that features some of the leaders on the cutting edge of the many facets of the prolife movement.

Dean Nelson of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition describes the impact of abortion on the black family.

Investigative activist Lila Rose of Live Action described the important role of new media in investigating the abortion industry and spreading the message of life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why We March

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

Today, January 22, marks the 40th 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, the 25th, for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn an estimated several hundred thousand 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.

The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, since changed his mind and heart and became 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 fifty five 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, Diane Sawyer, 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 in 2005. 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 forty 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 forty 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 Continues to play a pivotal role in the debate over health care and other public 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 tend toward voting 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, college students, and new media savvy activists who are exposing the dark side of the abortion industry. This is 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.

Deep Space Industries Announces Asteroid Resources Business Plan

NASA, Artist concept by Denise Watt.
Some of my friends in the space community announced a new asteroid mining venture, Deep Space Industries, Inc. The company plans to start launching small precursor prospecting missions in 2-3 years. As I posted last year at the announcement of another asteroid prospecting/mining enterprise, Planetary Resources, Inc., this industry will have deep societal implications.

Jeff Foust provides some major media links here.

Here is the video of today's announcement.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Circus on the Severn Opens For Its 2013 Run

The Maryland General Assembly opened today for its 2013 ninety day session. Once again, various contentious measures will be debated and some, for better or worse, will probably pass.