Fortean / Oddball News: Air Force Wiccans, 1st Spaceport and Interplanetary Exploration

Air Force Academy Looking For a Few Good Wiccans

wired - Just a few years ago, the Air Force Academy was considered such an evangelical hothouse that the place got sued for its alleged discrimination against non-Christians. Today, the Academy is boasting of its thriving pagan community — and its friendliness towards spell-casters.

In a press release issued Thursday, the Academy features Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, “the lay leader for the Academy’s Earth-Centered Spirituality community, which includes Wiccans and Pagans from various traditions.” (It’s part of a larger effort by the school to promote an image of tolerance.)

During an inter-faith discussion group, the release notes, one cadet asked Longcrier “whether Wiccans or Pagans practiced ‘black magic.’”

Sergeant Longcrier responded by citing the Wiccan credo, or Rede: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” That would seem to preclude harmful spellcraft.

However, the Rede “would not apply to a battlefield,” according to the Academy release. Which gives new meaning to the term “magic missile.”

Two other unnamed pagan cadets offered a spirited defense of the power of magic.

“If I put out a healing spell — say, I wanted to heal you from pizza poisoning — if it doesn’t work for you, but it works for somebody else, does that mean it didn’t work?” one cadet asked.

“But also keep in mind that magic doesn’t necessarily mean miracles,” another said. “Say you have cancer, and someone does a healing spell for you. It doesn’t mean the cancer disappears overnight. It could mean your doctor thinks up a different treatment.”

This would be an unusual conversation at any military institution. But considering the Academy had “55 complaints of religious discrimination” against non-Christians between 2001 and 2005, it’s close to miraculous — er, magical. According to according to CNN, all “9,000 cadets and faculty and staff members are now required to take a 50-minute course on religious sensitivity.”

But apparently, the pagan-Christian tension hasn’t been completely deflated at the Academy. Earlier this year, the Academy set aside an area for a “pagan circle” in the woods nearby campus. But before it could be officially dedicated, a large wooden cross was planted in the middle. Longcrier called it a “hate crime.”

NOTE: Interesting...I was accepted at two military academies, one being Air Force. The strict religious traditions was the ultimate reason why I decided not to go there...Lon


Steven Spielberg to Direct 'Robopocalypse'

blastr - Steven Spielberg has committed to directing an adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson's robot uprising novel as his next movie. Finally, the genre mastermind is back in the sci-fi saddle.

Spielberg sparked to the material last March, long before the novel was even completed—but as Wilson was turning in pages of the book, Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) was processing them into the screenplay and storyboards were being drawn. The finished product must've jazzed Spielberg, since he just decided to shoot Robopocalypse next January, aiming for a 2013 release.

As for the book itself, it'll be published in June 2011—while Wilson finishes his follow-up: Amp, which is set in a world where the technology to make the disabled whole turns them into supermen.

Steven Spielberg doing epic science fiction? All is right with the world.


First Commercial Spaceport Now Open

pcmag - Virgin Galactic is the arm of Virgin Group that is intended to develop commercial space travel. This week, the company's chief, Sir Richard Branson celebrated the completion of Spaceport America, the first commercial purpose-built space port in Upham, N.M.

The spaceport includes a two-mile long runway called the "Governor BIll Richardson Spaceway." It's 42 inches thick and can support every existing type of space craft currently in existence.

"New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern N.M.," Gov. Richardson said in a press release.

The runway was dedicated in a celebration that included Branson, Richardson, about 30 of 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts who got to see Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo jet carry the SpaceShip Two in a landing and flyover. The future astronauts are those who have already paid or put down a deposit for the $200,00 trip, a Reuters report said. The company already has deposits for more than $50 million.

"The last few weeks have been some of the most exciting in Virgin Galactic's development," Branson said in the release. "Our spaceship is flying beautifully and will soon be making powered flights, propelled by our new hybrid rocket motor, which is also making excellent progress in its own test program."

Branson said that he plans to be taking passengers into space in nine to 18 months.

President Barack Obama recently signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 into effect. It's a bill that appropriates $58.4 billion for NASA programs over the next three years and gives an additional flight to the space shuttle fleet.


NASA official: Interplanetary Spacecraft on the Way - A senior NASA official has promised to deliver a spaceship that will travel between alien worlds "within a few years".

Speaking at a conference in San Francisco on Saturday, NASA Ames director Simon Worden said his division had started a project with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the "Hundred Year Starship”.

The project was kicked off recently with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA and hopes to utilise new propulsion ideas being explored by NASA.

Star Trek fans, prepare to get excited - electric propulsion is here, according to Mr Worden.

“Anybody that watches the (Star Trek) Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire," he said.

"Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”

Mr Worden said the space program was "now really aimed at settling other worlds”.

“You heard it here,” he told the crowd at the “Long Conversation”.

“Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.”

Mr Worden said he hoped to "inveigle some billionaires" such as Google founder Larry Page to help with further funding for the project.

Another possible source of propulsion being funded by NASA was by using microwave power from a planetary base to heat hydrogen propellants on board an orbiting spaceship.

"You don’t have to carry all the fuel," he said. "You use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”

Mr Worden had an interesting take on how we would settle other worlds when we found them, suggesting it would be easier to adapt humans to an alien planet than changing the planet to suit humans.

“How do you live in another world? I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said.

“If you’re a conservative, you worry about it killing us; if you’re a liberal, you worry about us killing it."

Despite his ambitious vision to push further out into the galaxy, Mr Worden said there was still plenty of work to do in our own backyard first.

First stop, he said, was the moons of Mars, from where the planet itself can be explored using telerobotics.

“I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so," he said.

"Larry (Page) asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’

"So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”


Viking Artifacts Uncovered From Continued Thaw

reuters - Climate change is exposing reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings' ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect it from ice thawing in northern Europe's highest mountains.

"It's like a time machine...the ice has not been this small for many, many centuries," said Lars Piloe, a Danish scientist heading a team of "snow patch archaeologists" on newly bare ground 1,850 meters (6,070 ft) above sea level in mid-Norway.

Specialized hunting sticks, bows and arrows and even a 3,400-year-old leather shoe have been among finds since 2006 from a melt in the Jotunheimen mountains, the home of the "Ice Giants" of Norse mythology.

As water streams off the Juvfonna ice field, Piloe and two other archaeologists -- working in a science opening up due to climate change -- collect "scare sticks" they reckon were set up 1,500 years ago in rows to drive reindeer toward archers.

But time is short as the Ice Giants' stronghold shrinks.

"Our main focus is the rescue part," Piloe said on newly exposed rocks by the ice. "There are many ice patches. We can only cover a few...We know we are losing artefacts everywhere."

Freed from an ancient freeze, wood rots in a few years. And rarer feathers used on arrows, wool or leather crumble to dust in days unless taken to a laboratory and stored in a freezer.

Jotunheimen is unusual because so many finds are turning up at the same time -- 600 artefacts at Juvfonna alone.

Other finds have been made in glaciers or permafrost from Alaska to Siberia. Italy's iceman "Otzi," killed by an arrow wound 5,000 years ago, was found in an Alpine glacier in 1991. "Ice Mummies" have been discovered in the Andes.


Patrick Hunt, of Stanford University in California who is trying to discover where Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BC with an army and elephants, said there was an "alarming rate" of thaw in the Alps.

"This is the first summer since 1994 when we began our Alpine field excavations above 8,000 ft that we have not been inundated by even one day of rain, sleet and snow flurries," he said.

"I expect we will see more 'ice patch archaeology discoveries'," he said. Hannibal found snow on the Alpine pass he crossed in autumn, according to ancient writers.

Glaciers are in retreat from the Andes to the Alps, as a likely side-effect of global warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, the U.N. panel of climate experts says.

The panel's credibility has suffered since its 2007 report exaggerated a thaw by saying Himalayan glaciers might vanish by 2035. It has stuck to its main conclusion that it is "very likely" that human activities are to blame for global warming.

"Over the past 150 years we have had a worldwide trend of glacial retreat," said Michael Zemp, director of the Swiss-based World Glacier Monitoring Service. While many factors were at play, he said "the main driver is global warming."

In Norway, "some ice fields are at their minimum for at least 3,000 years," said Rune Strand Oedegaard, a glacier and permafrost expert from Norway's Gjoevik University College.

The front edge of Jovfunna has retreated about 18 meters (60 ft) over the past year, exposing a band of artefacts probably from the Iron Age 1,500 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating. Others may be from Viking times 1,000 years ago.

Juvfonna, about 1 km across on the flank of Norway's highest peak, Galdhoepiggen, at 2,469 meters, also went through a less drastic shrinking period in the 1930s, Oedegaard said.


Inside the Juvfonna ice, experts have carved a cave to expose layers of ice dating back 6,000 years. Some dark patches turned out to be ancient reindeer droppings -- giving off a pungent smell when thawed out.

Ice fields like Juvfonna differ from glaciers in that they do not slide much downhill. That means artefacts may be where they were left, giving an insight into hunting techniques.

On Juvfonna, most finds are "scare sticks" about a meter long. Each has a separate, flapping piece of wood some 30 cm long that was originally tied at the top. The connecting thread is rarely found since it disintegrates within days of exposure.

"It's a strange feeling to be tying a string around this stick just as someone else did maybe 1,500 years ago," said Elling Utvik Wammer, a archaeologist on Piloe's team knotting a tag to a stick before storing it in a box for later study.

All the finds are also logged with a GPS satellite marker before being taken to the lab for examination.

The archaeologists reckon they were set up about two meters apart to drive reindeer toward hunters. In summer, reindeer often go onto snow patches to escape parasitic flies.

Such a hunt would require 15 to 20 people, Piloe said, indicating that Norway had an organized society around the start of the Dark Ages, 1,500 years ago. Hunters probably needed to get within 20 meters of a reindeer to use an iron-tipped arrow.

"You can nearly feel the hunter here," Piloe said, standing by a makeshift wall of rocks exposed in recent weeks and probably built by an ancient archer as a hideaway.
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