Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Crazy But Hopeful Year: 2014

Each year seems to flash by quicker than the one preceding it, but still is packed full of events: horrible, hopeful, or just plain weird. 2014 was no exception, containing all of the above, with some change for the better.

The year that marked the centennial of the start of the First World War thankfully did not provide a repeat, but it did have its share of real instability and grotesque violence. Tensions in Ukraine escalated on the world stage as Russia used its forces to execute its claim on the region of Crimea.

Violence on several fronts marked the year in the Middle East. The rise of the "Islamic State" (or ISIS or ISIL or whatever it was called week-to-week) in Iraq and Syria brought unspeakable crimes against Christians, Jews, Yazidis and others, including other Muslims who did not join the IS in its bizarre beliefs and barbaric actions. Meanwhile, tensions flared up in Gaza as Hamas went on a violent offensive and Israel took decisive measures to neutralize the Hamas actions. Meanwhile, Iran continues to lurk in the background to strengthen its dominance in the region.

Disease became as threatening as war during the year as the Ebola virus surged in Africa, bringing fears of a worldwide epidemic. Rapid implementation of counter-measures and the introduction of new, untested therapies helped to diminish the threat by late in the year, though the suffering in Africa and the continued risk of disease spread mandate continued attention and vigilance.

The United States saw a rise in tensions as incidents of violence between young black males and police in Ferguson, MO, NYC and other cities inflamed issues of police use of force v. incitement of unrest exploiting emotions over tragic but sometimes explainable confrontations between citizens and police.

The Mid-term Elections proceeded peacefully after months of shrill and often expensive campaigns. The foreign crises spinning out of control, a growing list of abuses and scandals (NSA, IRS, Benghazi, executive orders, etc.) and the accelerating debacle of Obamacare led to Republican victories across the nation that gave the GOP control of the US Senate and increased margins in the House. Equally significant were shifts in the states, including Republicans winning governor seats in usually strong Democratic states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts. With President Obama finishing his second term in the White House, the stage is being set for heated battles for the 2016 presidential nomination in both parties. The 2016 election will be decisive as to what vision for America prevails for the foreseeable future.

Humanity continued its slow but steady push to explore and move into the universe, even with a couple of notable setbacks. Mars received two new robotic visitors this year, from NASA and from India. Meanwhile, India also advanced by using its first test of its heavy lift launch vehicle to also test fly a model re-entry capsule that could become India's first human carrying space vehicle in coming years. Meanwhile, NASA successfully took its Orion human exploration vehicle out on its first uncrewed trial run and Russia tested a heavy lift version of its new generation of rockets as the year came to a close. The explosion of the Antares rocket and the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo with one of its crew are reminders that there is sometimes a steep price to be paid in expanding a frontier. The two companies, Orbital and Virgin, are already working on their paths to recovery of their space ventures.

As the Earth completes another revolution of the Sun, we say farewell to 2014 and ask God's blessings as we enter the new year of  2015, whatever it brings.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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, November 27, 2014

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. 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. ;-)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mars Gets New Company

Image Credit: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)

Last week was a busy time around Mars as two new spacecraft arrived to study the planet from orbit. On Sunday, September 21, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft entered Martian orbit to begin its mission of studying the planet's atmosphere, with an overall objective of understanding the atmosphere's history and how it changed over time. The most intriguing question these observations will try to answer is what happened to much of the water the planet apparently had earlier in its history. Continuing updates on the mission can be found at NASA's MAVEN homepage.

Two days later, MAVEN was joined by India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which will also be used to study the Martian atmosphere and surface. The accomplishment affirms India's status as a leading scientific and technological nation. Continuing updates on this mission can be found at ISRO's MOM homepage.

Both missions join a small armada of Mars orbiters and surface rovers already studying the planet. Mars is a primary focus of the space efforts of several nations and of private entrepreneurs, especially Elon Musk, who plans to initiate  efforts that will eventually lead to colonization of the Red Planet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Changing Business Of Getting Into Space

An Atlas V rocket launching the MAVEN mission to Mars. The Atlas V will play a role in major developments announced this week. Photo credit: NASA

After the usual summer lull, space policy events in DC are shifting back into gear. Several events I attended over the last couple of days coincided with a some major announcements that provided plenty of fodder for conversation.

Tuesday featured the long awaited announcement by NASA of its selection of companies to provide transportation of crewmembers to the International Space Station. NASA's selection of SpaceX and Boeing to provide crew transportation marks a milestone toward implementing the nation's commercial crew policy and in restoring full American access to space.

The FAA used the occasion of its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting this week in Washington, DC to announce its decision to grant a spaceport license to Midland International Airport in Texas, where XCOR Aerospace is planning to establish operations and will be joined by supporting companies including Orbital Outfitters. Midland is the ninth spaceport to be licensed in the US and is the first where commercial space activities will coexist with regular scheduled airline service.

The most surprising announcement this week was the partnership between United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin to develop a version of Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine to eventually replace the Russian RD180 engine in ULA's Atlas V rocket that launches many US national security, NASA and commercial missions. The BE-4 is a 21st Century engine design that is in some ways simpler and more efficient than older American or Russian engines. The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen/methane engine that produces 2.45 million newtons (550,000 lbf.) of thrust and is designed to be reusable.

While ULA has not indicated any plans to use the reusability feature in its Atlas V launcher, the partnership provides Blue Origin with an infusion of cash plus the opportunity to gain significant flight experience with the BE-4 that can be applied to the company's own planned reusable launch vehicles. SpaceX, the main domestic competitor of ULA and Blue Origin, is already aggressively developing reusability into its vehicles. With a major part of the US launch industry developing reusable vehicle capabilities, launch companies in other nations are likely to step up their efforts in this direction. The end result of this competition will be that access to space will become significantly cheaper and humanity will move toward becoming a truly spacefaring civilization.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

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

Thirteen years ago today, 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.

Thirteen 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, the current horrific events in the Middle East and the growing tensions and confrontations around the world serve to remind us that the threat is still real. We must not allow complacency or political correctness to distract us from recognizing the reality of the current danger.

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 and growing 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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Forty Five Years Ago Today, We Stepped On Another World


Today is the 45th 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 eleventh 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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

As It Happened, the Apollo 11 Launch

Forty five years ago this morning, 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.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Stars And Stripes by Junior Libby

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week 2014

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. Sunday, Pope Francis began Holy Week observances with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square

This year, it also happens that tonight (Monday) 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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sine Die: The Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned Monday night (photo gallery here) after its ninety-day rampage. The tally of major legislation passed includes a raise in the minimum wage and decriminalization of marijuana, both measures passed during the final hours before adjournment.

The good news is that this is an election year when Maryland voters, if they are paying attention, can chose to have more balanced representation and mitigate the abuses of one-party rule.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!


Artist unknown, Link by

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 for webcasts of Irish music and other media direct from Ireland.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Remembering Fallen Pioneers

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

May they be always remembered, along with the four Russians and those who will give their lives in the future as humans expand outward to explore, develop and settle new places in the cosmos.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Marching To Defend The Defenseless

I participated in the 41st annual March for Life. in Washington today. This took more thorough preparation this year than usual because of the extremely cold temperatures today (~15-19 deg highs, not counting the wind chill) that followed yesterday's snowstorm. (May God pour abundant blessings on the individual(s) who invented hand and toe warmers.) While the extreme weather forced some groups to cancel their travel plans, the crowd still seemed overwhelmingly huge.

The March has received attention from around the world. Most noteworthy is a tweet of support from Pope Francis: "I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable".

Pictures tell the story of this gathering to speak out for the defenseless unborn and for an end to the unjust imposition of abortion on demand that takes so many of their lives. (Click on each pic to enlarge it.)

Young people stepping out to lead the March for Life

Students for Life of America have a message for the nation.

We don't believe that life begins at conception.
We simply accept the science.

The massive crowd marches up Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court: We'll come here every year until this grave injustice is overturned.

Prior to the March, I attended the ProLifeCon media conference at the Family Research Council. (I arrived late because of the weather conditions.)

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, whose large and growing family has become the theme of a reality TV show, describe how they live their prolife convictions.

Former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks on how to advance the prolife cause in politics and society.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why We March

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

March for Life 2010 ascending Capitol Hill on the way to the Supreme Court

Wednesday, January 22, will mark the 41st 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 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 six 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 apparently 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 one 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 one 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, and is becoming increasingly intertwined with issues of religious and personal liberty and freedom of speech. The powers-that-be and others who want to silence the prolife movement must be terrified (even if subconsciously) that the brutal reality of abortion will be exposed. 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 speakin' their minds, A-gettin' 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.

In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King...

...and for all who struggle to defend human life, liberty, dignity and respect.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Week Of Advances In Access to Space

Cygnus/Antares launch on January 9, 2014 from the Mid-Atlantic Space Coast
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The past week was the first full week of 2014 and it featured at least four significant events advancing capabilities to enter space more affordably.

On Sunday, January 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) succeeded in launching its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), including its domestically developed cryogenic upper stage, after several previous troubled attempts. This launch vehicle increases India's capabilities to launch payloads into space and to compete for commercial launch contracts.

One day later, on Monday, January 6, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket carrying the Thaicom 6 commercial telecommunications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit, one month after executing its first launch of a commercial communications satellite. This launch helps to build SpaceX's track record in competitively conducting launches, potentially shaking up the global launch market and enabling more affordable access to space.

On Thursday, January 9, Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched the Cygnus/Antares launch vehicle on its first operational cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) (following the demonstration cargo delivery last September). The cargo delivered to the ISS on Sunday, January 12 included ISS supplies, student science experiments, the 28 small satellites for Planet Labs' commercial remote sensing constellation and belated Christmas gifts. The launch was delayed several times from mid-December by ISS repairs and terrestrial and space weather conditions.

Finally, on Friday, January 10, Virgin Galactic successfully conducted the third powered flight test of its SpaceShipTwo commercial suborbital space vehicle. SpaceShipTwo did not go high enough to enter space during this test flight, but it was an important step toward achieving that goal. Once test flights are completed, Virgin plans to start carrying paying passengers and research payloads (possibly later this year).

Progress in space endeavors, including the growing commercial space industry, is dependent on continued technical progress, financial backing and forward looking public policy. Still, 2014 is off to a good start in the continuing growth of space enterprise.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014