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Every April the University of Colorado hosts the , a series of free and open panel discussions with experts from every discipline, from the arts to politics and science. It's a tremendous experience, and since this is my last April in Colorado for a while I managed to get to three panels this week. I moderated a panel on Space Trade, Transport, and Tourism with Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, NASA astrophysicist Barbara Thompson, CEO of blog, Michael Laine, and space flight systems engineer Juniper Jairala on the panel. Laine's company is working on the idea of an elevator to space. While the engineering challenges are formidable, in principle it is a far more economical and efficient means of getting freight out of the Earth's gravity well than rockets are. The panelists were trading bets on how soon (and if) the middle class will be buying tickets to space. Laine pointed out that transportation economy was largely fueled, at least originally, by freight, and Schweickart said the real space tourist boom blog will not be with Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two flights to suborbital space for a few minutes, but the next generation of vehicles that will take passengers halfway around the world in an hour or two on a suborbital rocket plane (he's betting Sir Richard Branson already has that in his business plan). The speed, by the way, is due to the gravity and size of the Earth; the rocket is just there to get you going fast enough so you don't hit the ground until you've gone halfway 'round the planet. It takes 90 minutes to orbit the Earth, so a trip from Colorado to Japan is about 45 minutes of coasting, plus whatever time is needed for takeoff and landing. On the other hand, Schweickart also pointed out that "it is a long, long, long way" from suborbital flight (a la SpaceShip Two) to orbital flight (Space Shuttle) due to the much greater energy needed to get to orbital speed and the technical challenge of losing that energy safely when landing. Michael Laine was also a panelist on the second panel I attended: "If Colbert Interviews Borat, How Many Personalities are in Your Living Room?". Mark Levine, Terry McNally, and Nathan Johnson were the other panelists for an entertaining discussion of how reality is distorted not just by satirists such as Colbert and Sascha Baron Cohen, but also by what Levine called the "Fox Propaganda Channel" among others. The third session I managed to attend was a plenary address by former U. S. Ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson. He joked that that used to be the first line of his obituary; now it is that he is the husband [blog] of the only covert CIA agent to be outed by her own government. It was a passionate address to a packed house at Macky Auditorium. He summarized the events leading up to "Plame-gate". Blog it is fairly sickening. Wilson initially attempted to get "redress for his grievances" as he phrased it (invoking the language of the First Ammendment) through private channels to officials in the U. S. government, including U. S. Senators. His grievance was that the administration used the threat of nuclear weapons in Iraq as a key justification for invading that country when it knew that there was no nuclear weapons capability or program there. Ultimately, failing to get action through direct channels, he published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (on Bush's birthday, as it happens) outlining the facts for the American people. At that point he felt he had done his duty as a citizen. Little did he know what the Bush machine had in store for him and his wife. He attributed their mean and stupid actions to meanness, stupidity, and a failure to understand or appreciate the basic principles of how our government and society are supposed to work.

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