Friday, January 25, 2013

A 'Threat to National Security,' a New Spaceplane, and Asteroid Mining

Don't expect a rant about the Satanic horrors of people who aren't like me, and why Islam is the worst thing since [political party] had a majority in Congress. That's not going to happen. Not in this blog, not by me.

I'm upset that someone in Iran is on trial for 'threatening national security' by opening a low-profile church. But I'd be upset if someone in America was on trial for opening a mosque. Freedom doesn't mean 'free to agree with me:' or shouldn't.
  1. Saeed Abedini: Christian and Threat to 'National Security'
  2. SpaceLiner - 'Almost-SpaceLiner,' Actually
  3. Asteroid Mining

Catholics, Tolerance, and Freedom

I'm a Catholic. My native culture's stereotype of Catholics being fettered by too many rules isn't accurate: but we do have rules. The important ones are specific applications of:
As a Catholic, I must:
  • Value and support religious freedom
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
There are more than a billion of us alive today, but here in America we're a minority. Not as small a minority as a few decades ago, and that's another topic. In another way, I'm one of the majority of Americans who have some sort of religious belief. Here's what my fellow-citizens said they believed, in 2007:
  • Protestant
    • 51.3%
  • Roman Catholic
    • 23.9%
  • Mormon
    • 1.7%
  • Other Christian
    • 1.6%
  • Jewish
    • 1.7%
  • Buddhist
    • 0.7%
  • Muslim
    • 0.6%
  • Other or unspecified
    • 2.5%
  • Unaffiliated
    • 12.1%
  • none
    • 4%
    ("CIA World Factbook," United States (page last updated January 14, 2013))
An advantage to being part of a religious minority is getting opportunities to appreciate tolerance: real tolerance, not the sort of 'free to agree with me' stuff peddled by 'regular Americans' in my youth, or the politically correct crowd more recently.

In my case, it helps that I'm very aware that the Church is literally catholic, universal. I've been over this before:
Now, finally, here's what I picked from this week's news.

1. Saeed Abedini: Christian and Threat to 'National Security'

"Imprisoned Christian pastor banned from trial"
Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News (January 24, 2013)

"An American citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith has been barred from attending his own trial and faces serious danger, warned a legal team monitoring his case.

" 'Iran has continued its lies and disinformation campaign to deflect attention from its abuse of this U.S. citizen for his faith,' said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.

"In a series of Jan. 21-23 blog posts, Sekulow cautioned that the Iran is trying to punish 32-year-old pastor Saeed Abedini for his Christian beliefs.

"The Iranian-born pastor has been charged with attempting to undermine national security by helping to create Christian house churches in the country. Although such churches are technically legal, the regime claims that the pastor has tried to turn young people in Iran away from the national religion of Islam...."
I hope and pray that Saeed Abedini gets the strength to keep his faith: and that he is freed. As I said earlier in this post, don't expect a rant. I have a very low opinion of the Iranian government's track record on tolerance: and that's as far as I'll go here.

Folks whose beliefs aren't approved by America's government leaders are much less likely to find themselves detained. This country has a fairly good record for tolerance. Not perfect, but we're better off than Iran. I've discussed tolerance, real and imagined, and 'national security,' in another blog:

2. SpaceLiner - 'Almost-SpaceLiner,' Actually


(DLR, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"The SpaceLiner, which is being developed by the Institute of Space Systems at the German Aerospace Center...."
"Hypersonic 'SpaceLiner' Aims to Fly Passengers in 2050"
Jeremy Hsu, SPACE.com (January 24, 2013)

" A hypersonic 'SpaceLiner' would whisk up to 50 passengers from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes. The futuristic vehicle would do so by riding a rocket into Earth's upper atmosphere, reaching 24 times the speed of sound before gliding in for a landing.

"Many challenges still remain, including finding the right shape for the vehicle, said Martin Sippel, project coordinator for SpaceLiner at the German Aerospace Center. But he suggested the project could make enough progress to begin attracting private funding in another 10 years and aim for full operations by 2050.

"The current concept includes a rocket booster stage for launch and a separate orbiter stage to carry passengers halfway around the world without ever making it to space. Flight times between the U.S. and Europe could fall to just over an hour if the SpaceLiner takes off - that is, if passengers don't mind paying the equivalent of space tourism prices around several hundred thousand dollars...."
I don't doubt that technical issues involved in making a vehicle like SpaceLiner will be dealt with by 2050, 37 years from now. What I think is less certain is the business end of this vehicle.

I'm not convinced that enough folks are willing to pay high prices for a 90 minute Europe-to-Australia trip. The Anglo-French Concorde was a modestly successful supersonic airliner from 1976 to 2003, so maybe there's a market for SpaceLiner.

On the other hand, much of the Concorde's commercial run was in the days before Information Age technologies made videoconferencing a practical alternative to business trips.

I'm a bit more optimistic about transportation systems like Skylon. Videoconferencing works just as well when folks are in low Earth orbit - but there's still the matter of getting gadgets and people up there.

The development of another spaceplane may seem far removed from 'spiritual' concerns. I see development of the SpaceLiner as another example of what it is to be human. Got gave us brains, and I said that last week. (January 18, 2013)

3. Asteroid Mining


(Deep Space Industries, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"This illustration depicts Deep Space Industries' Fuel Processor class spacecraft for asteroid mining...."
"New Asteroid-Mining Venture to Be Unveiled Tuesday"
Mike Wall, SPACE.com (January 21, 2013)

"A new asteroid-mining company will unveil itself to the world on Tuesday (Jan. 22) and is expected to present an ambitious plan to exploit the resources of deep space.

"The new private spaceflight company, called Deep Space Industries, Inc., will reveal its plans at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) Tuesday at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying in California. The new company is the second audacious project aimed at tapping the myriad riches that asteroids harbor.

"Deep Space seeks to launch 'the world's first fleet of commercial asteroid-prospecting spacecraft,' according to a press advisory the company sent to reporters. 'Deep Space is pursuing an aggressive schedule and plans on prospecting, harvesting and processing asteroids for use in space and to benefit Earth.'..."
I think this makes a lot of sense. Some asteroids are very rich in iron and nickel. Until very recently, the only time we've been able to get these resources was when they fell to Earth:
  • "Iron Meteorites"
    "The Hearts of Long-Vanished Asteroids"
    Geoffrey Notkin, Aerolite Meteorites, geology.com
Aside from technical issues involved in asteroid mining, there's a whole new area of legal issues to sort out:

Dealing With Something New

Legal wrangles many not be a serious problem: provided that lawyers and judges involved understand that asteroids are as much part of our world as is New York City's upper west side.

The reaction of folks who sincerely loathe anything new could be a problem, or at least an annoyance. Folks who take Captain Planet seriously are, I think, likely to get upset when miners threaten the environment on asteroids. Coming from another direction, someone may achieve fleeting fame by declaring that asteroid mining is an offense against God: because asteroids are 'in the heavens.'

Getting a Grip

I hope to spend eternity in Heaven. I'm also about as sure as I can be of anything that I couldn't get to Heaven in a spaceship. There's a pretty good discussion of Heaven in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1023-1029, and that's yet another topic.

At the risk of sounding like one of the Planeteers, I think there's good reason for developing laws that deal with territory, property, and natural resources that aren't on Earth. We don't leave natural law behind when we leave Earth, any more than we escape the more familiar physical laws.

Natural law, ethical principles woven into this creation, is universal; and doesn't change. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1954-1960) Stealing was wrong when flint spear tips were the latest thing in weapons technology, and stealing will be be wrong when asteroid mining is as commonplace as farming is today.

Whether or not someone who takes iron from an asteroid belonging to someone else will be called a claim jumper, the act will be theft: and will be wrong. Defining exactly how ownership of asteroids and other extraterrestrial real estate will probable never be settled 'once and for all,' and that is yet again another topic.

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