The Prism Of Religion

There is an article in the Christian Science Monitor that describes the conlict of ostensibly Christian values over the Middle East situation.

To me, both are inadequate bases for judgment, to put it mildly:

“Jerusalem is suffering,” says Galen Bowman of Old German Baptist Brethren Church in Belkite, Ind. “We’re trying to help out. We need to support Israel” as visitors, he says, because Israel is God’s way of preparing the Messiah’s return.


“I think people [in my congregation] recognize the weight of the moral mandate is with the Palestinians, simply because they are occupied and oppressed,” says the Rev. Richard Signore of Bourne, Mass. “Some lay people say it’s too complex and we should leave it to the experts, but I don’t accept that. To me, this really is an issue of moral imperative for a people to have self- determination.”

The article summarizes the juxtaposition thusly:

Now, engaged Christians take sides largely according to one of two perspectives. One is that faithfulness equals pursuit of justice by ending Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian territories. The other is that being faithful means supporting Israel to honor God’s prophecy as stated in Ezekiel 37:21: “I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.”

Sorry, but, from my perspective, both of these perspectives are loony.

My prism is democracy, pluralism, secular statism, and liberty. From that perspective, Israel has it all over the Palestinians, and the rest of the Arab world.

North Korean Refugee Update

Reader John Thacker has been diligently keeping up with the North Korean refugee saga.

First off, the three North Koreans that scaled the wall into the US
consulate in Shenyeng got sent to South Korea.

Good for us. (Although some reports seem to indicate that they wanted
to come to the USA rather than to S. Korea.)

No doubt…

The Japanese are lodging their protests with the Chinese, as reported Here, and here.

The Chinese are telling the Japanese to “correct their attitude,” and claiming that they got permission to enter the embassy. The Japanese reply that they did not give agreement, and are demanding that China return the five refugees. (Sounds like a matter of honor now, perhaps?)

Perhaps. We’ll see how cowed Japan is by China.

Sailing, Sailing

A long-time goal of space enthusiasts is about to reach fruition–the first solar sail is about to take flight. The really neat thing about it, to me, is that it’s privately sponsored. I remember discussing this at dinner in 1982 with Rob Staehle, the JPL engineer who was planning the project that long ago as an extra-curricular activity (more recently, he was the pre-project manager for the Pluto Express mission and is now the Deputy Project Manager of the Europa mission), and it’s great to see it finally happening.

To the degree that many people are aware of the concept of solar sails, they mistakenly believe, taking the nautical analogy, that they are blown by the solar wind. But solar sails, or light sails (the more generic term, because they could be powered with lasers as well as the sun) actually get their thrust from radiation pressure. The solar wind is composed of heavy, highly-energetic particles that would blow right through a sail, destroying rather than propelling it. The sail is instead impinged by photons, the components of light.

The article linked above says that the sail absorbs them, and gains their momentum, but if this occurs, it’s actually less efficient. Ideally, the photons actually reflect off the sail, imparting twice the momentum that they would if they were absorbed. Thus, a well-designed sail has a mirrored surface, or at least a surface that acts as a mirror for the frequencies of light for which it’s designed. Also, since the lighter the vehicle, the greater the acceleration for a given force, it’s made as thin as possible while still maintaining structural integrity. Finally, since force is pressure times area, the bigger the sail, the more thrust can be attained.

Because the solar radiation pressure is so small, even for a large sail, the total force might only amount to a few pounds. But if that’s the only force acting (other than gravity), it can still add up, and with continuous acceleration, get you to an outer planet faster than chemical propulsion.

One question often asked is, if the radiation pressure always acts outward from the sun, how a sailing spacecraft can come back into the solar system. Answer: like conventional sailing ships, it tacks (though the analogy is imperfect–being in a vacuum, unlike the water for a ship, there is no medium in which it travels, and it thus has no use for a keel).

Imagine that the sail is at an angle with respect to the sun. Some of the thrust is directed radially along its orbit. Add to orbital velocity, and the energy increases, and the sail heads out to the outer system. Change the angle to subtract from it, and the sail will slow, and fall back in toward the sun. Angle it out of the orbital plane, and you can slowly perform a plane change.

If we really did want to drop nuclear waste into the sun, a sail is probably the only affordable way to do it, with the additional advantage that as the star is approached, the thrust increases as the square of the distance (twice as close means four times the thrust). Unfortunately, because they’re such delicate things, the sail might burn up before it had decreased its velocity sufficiently to drop all the way. So a final booster rocket might still be needed.

Here’s an extremely little-known fact. Solar sails played a significant role in the conceptualization and development of nanotechnology. Back in the 1970s, a young student at MIT, enamored with space, was trying to figure out how to develop the minimum thickness for a sail. He came up with a concept for laying out an ultra-thin layer of aluminum on a wax, using a technique called vacuum-vapor deposition, in which the metal would be heated to a vapor, and sprayed on a substrate in a vacuum chamber. Afterwards, the wax would be melted away, leaving the thin aluminum foil. He reasoned that he could get a sail that was only a few atoms thick–strong and reflective enough to be a good sail (as long as it was handled properly) while providing maximum performance.

One thing led to another, and he eventually came up with other techniques for building things at atomic-level scale, and gave some serious thought to the implications of such manufacturing. He wrote a book on the subject in the mid-1980s, and eventually, in 1991, received the first doctorate in the field, having played a major role in inventing it, from MIT. His name, of course, was K. Eric Drexler.

Recharging Your Space Batteries

If you don’t already have plans for Memorial Weekend, and you have the time/money to get to Denver, and are interested in space, you might want to consider attending the International Space Development Conference, sponsored by the National Space Society. I’ve been to many of these, and you’ll find programming to suit every taste, from whiz-bang technologies, to recent results in space science, space law, and discussions of asteroid mining, colonization and settlement. It’s probably the largest gathering of space enthusiasts you’ll find during the year.

Don’t miss it if you want to find out the latest in our progress to spread life into the universe.

Quotas Reign, Temporarily

The Sixth Circuit Court has reversed the lower-court decision, and ruled that the University of Michigan Law School can practice racial discrimination (my interpretation of the ruling). It was a narrow ruling, five to four. What’s most interesting to me is not just the dissent, but the fact that some of the dissenters claim that the majority is not only wrong, but that they cheated procedurally.

I’m no lawyer, but the arguments for the majority read pretty strained to me. This is why the Dems are fighting so hard to keep Bush from putting judges on the bench. They know that the majorities for their nonsense is thin.

This one’s almost certain to be appealed. It will be interesting to see if the USSC takes it.

More Blogging In The Mainstream

Alan Boyle has set up a weblog over at MSNBC, covering space and science stuff. It’s off to a good start–right out of the gate, he permalinks to Paul Hsieh, NASA Watch, me, and Jay Manifold, among others.

I notice that MSNBC has put up a disclaimer, though–they disclaim responsibility for internet links. You’d like to think that goes without saying, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!