25 November 2013

Reusable launchers

If Falcon 9 launches the SES-8 communications satellite successfully, this will be a doubly historic day in the life of SpaceX and for spaceflight in general. It is SpaceX's first attempt at a geostationary transfer orbit, and it's the second flight of their new partly reusable rocket.


The first Falcon 9 1.1 launch
The first Falcon 9 1.1 launch
Today is a very special day. SpaceX plans to launch its first mission to put a commercial satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

This is what all launcher companies aspire to, and it's the core of their business.

From GTO a communications satellite can make its own way to geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), the place it needs to be if it's a TV relay or a weather satellite.

Today's projected launch is for a satellite called SES-8, flying to provide communications links for South-East Asia.

A new, reusable rocket - This is also the second launch for SpaceX's Falcon 9 1.1, a new and more powerful design that has replaced the original version of Falcon 9. Uniquely among current launch vehicles, Falcon 9 1.1 is designed to be reusable; after stage separation and ignition of the second stage and the payload, all other first stages simply re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, break up under aerodynamic stresses, and crash into the sea.

But Falcon 9 1.1 is intended to rotate, fire three of its nine engines to slow and control its descent, and finally use a single engine to land back at the launch pad. The cost savings will be immense if first stages can be re-used.

SpaceX will not attempt a return this time, though on the first flight they did so [Tweet it!] (and almost succeeded). The idea was to simulate a landing on the sea's surface and then ditch the stage.

But early next year, SpaceX would like to try again using a Falcon 9 1.1 equipped with deployable landing legs. Eventual success will transform the space launch industry very dramatically.

Watch this space! (No pun intended.)

Questions:

  • Reusable rockets would greatly reduce costs to orbit (think in terms of around one tenth the cost or less) What might cheaper access to space make possible?
  • Do you think humans will one day live in places other than the Earth? (See, for example, Mars One.)

See also: 

22 November 2013

Prayer, Bible study, story telling

Here's an opportunity for some free online training. Steve Addison presents a session on following Jesus and making disciples. It's no substitute for face-to-face contact with a trainer, but it's invaluable as a taster. If you get the chance to meet Steve, take it. But watch this and read the books anyway.

Steve Addison's website
Steve Addison's website
Steve Addison is an Australian with a calling, in his own words, to 'spark church planting movements, everywhere'.

He has written some great books, 'Movements that change the world' and 'What Jesus Started' are particular favourites on my electronic bookshelf.

Steve also runs courses all over the world and is coming to Nottingham next week for the Newforms National Gathering 2013. I'll be there, and I'm greatly looking forward to hearing him.

Recently, Steve Addison released an online training video available to watch live or for download. It is an excellent starter for anyone wanting to get out amongst local people and reach them with the best news in the known universe. It focusses on prayer, simple discovery Bible study and story telling.

Read his two books mentioned above as well, you will not be disappointed by either the style or the content. They are very readable but at the same time, challenging.

Questions:

  • Watch the video. Do you think you will approach people differently from now on?
  • What single thing that you have learned will most affect the way you think and behave in future?
  • Have you ever wondered what Jesus' daily life was like? Read 'What Jesus Started' and find out. [Tweet it!]

See also:

19 November 2013

Jonestown in 1978

Thirty-five years ago yesterday, nearly a thousand people perished at Jonestown in Guyana; they committed mass suicide by taking cyanide. Just as shocking as the deaths themselves is the fact that they were persuaded to die by Jim Jones, their leader.

Jonestown from the air
Jonestown from the air
Thirty-five years ago, nearly a thousand people died after drinking cyanide-laced soft drinks.

As we remember this dreadful event that shocked the world in 1978, let's ask again how it could have happened and what we need to learn from it.

The problem, at its simplest. was that too many people believed the leader of the group, Jim Jones. He told them to drink the poisoned mixture. And they did, men, women and children. The only survivors were those who had escaped beforehand.

How could it happen? - Why did so many people drink the poison? This is less easy to fathom. And how can we guard against something like this happening again?

Jim Jones was very persuasive, and he used the murders of investigators and escaping residents as a lever, telling people that the authorities would arrest them and torture them. A strong mix of anxiety, a sense of impending doom with no plausible escape, prior 'practice' sessions and calm persuasion convinced people to take the poison. And there's also the herd effect, nobody dares to be the odd one out, even when the consequences involve certain death.

Some people avoided the poisoning, a number by leaving before the fatal act took place, and a few who were away from Jonestown on the day of the deaths.

Avoiding danger - The fact that leaders can have such a major impact on their followers should cause us to consider very carefully who we choose to follow. In the church, we should be careful to follow only Jesus. Not only is that what he calls his followers to do (I am the Way, the Truth and the Life). He also loves us and never, ever calls us to harm ourselves or others.

We should be very suspicious of any church leader who issues commands, domineers, or insists on actions [Tweet it!]. Especially when those actions go against the consciences of group members. And we should be alarmed when any leader resorts to coercion or emotional manipulation.

In the case of Jim Jones' followers, it seems they were entirely well-meaning and devoted to him and his unusual mix of communist fervour and confused religious thinking. Some had the wisdom and courage to leave Jonestown, but it was far from an easy option for them.

Questions:

  • Can you think of other cases in which a leadership figure with charisma has misled people? Hint: think beyond religious leaders, include figures from the worlds of politics, business and more.
  • How would you have dealt with the Jim Jones scenario? If you had joined the movement as a young person, at what point would you have decided to leave? Read the Wikipedia article and be honest with yourself. Where do you draw the line when the line is ill-defined?
  • Is there anything we can do, individually or together, to prevent situations like Jonestown developing?

See also:

17 November 2013

Sinéad O'Connor's Theology

Sinéad O'Connor's album, 'Theology', is challenging if you listen to the words carefully. It's easy to overlook the lyrics, but they are the whole point of the album. Sometimes the words are straight from Isaiah or Jeremiah, sometimes they are her own, but always they hit home without compromise.

Theology
Theology
I wonder how many of you have listened to Sinéad O'Connor's album 'Theology'?

Like all of her music it's a little edgy. It needs to be listened to carefully and understood. Sinéad's life, her music, and her faith are all a little unconventional, but that's what makes her and her music so interesting.

It's relatively easy to be bland, perform bland music, and blandly follow where others have gone before. But to succeed in charting a new course, that's a little harder.

Above all, I'd say Sinéad O'Connor does things her own way without trying to please other people [Tweet it!]. And I admire that in anyone. Much of the music and words are her own (some with Tomlinson), but she also sings pieces by Mayfield, Dowe/McNaughton, Lloyd-Webber/Rice, and a traditional piece too.

Uncompromising words - If you want to hear the music you'll need to buy the album or use Spotify or similar; but here are some of the words (partly biblical) from the track 'Something beautiful'.

I couldn't thank you in ten thousand years
If I cried ten thousand rivers of tears
Ah but - you know the soul and you know what makes it gold
You who give life through blood. Blood, blood, blood...

Oh I wanna make something so lovely for you
'Cos I promised that's what I'd do for you
With the Bible I stole, I know you forgave my soul
Because such was my need on a chronic Christmas eve
And I think we're agreed that it should have been free

And you sang to me

They dresssed the wounds of my poor people as though they're nothing
Saying peace, peace when there's no peace.
They dresssed the wounds of my poor people as though they're nothing
Saying peace when there's no peace.
Days without number, days without number
Now can a bride forget her jewels
Or a maid her ornaments?
Yet my people have forgotten me days without number...

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch mention Sinéad's album in their book 'ReJesus', and that's what got me listening. They point out that although it was part of a protest about Catholicism, there's a powerful message here for all who claim to follow Christ. They are right.

Questions:

  • Read Jeremiah 6:13-15 and Jeremiah 2:31-33. How does Yahweh feel about injustice and neglect?
  • Why is Sinéad quoting these verses in her song?
  • Now read Isaiah 61:1-3 and Isaiah 61:10-11. How often do we live up to these expectations?

See also:

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