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 Karl Grossman
Disgrace Into Space
The Ecologist
March 2001




Karl Grossman is Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. He is the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet (Common Courage Press), Weapons In Space (Seven Stories Press) and various TV documentaries produced by EnviroVideo, Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens, Nukes In Space 2: Unacceptable Risks and Star Wars Returns


Space is being opened for business – the war business and commercial business. Will humanity be able to prevent the armed conflict and rampant greed that has marked human history on Earth from extending into the heavens? Karl Grossman reports.

Even before man first stepped on the moon, the human race was putting together its plans for the ownership of space. The United Nations General Assembly’s Outer Space Treaty, which became effective in 1967, was a giant leap in the race into space. Now ratified by most of the nations of the world, it is the basic international law on the mapped and unmapped areas beyond our planet.

‘Inspired by the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man’s entry into outer space,’ declares the preamble to the Outer Space Treaty (OST), ‘recognising the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,’ the treaty goes on to state that ‘outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation’ and it seeks to exclude war from space.

The trouble with agreements, however, is that there’s always someone who wants to move beyond them. Consequently, on 20 November 2000, 163 nations voted in the UN General Assembly for ‘reaffirming’ the Outer Space Treaty and specifically its provision that space be set aside for peaceful uses. Their reason? The US is ramping up its own plans for the military domination of space.

Space-Based LaserThe US military wants to ‘control space’ and ‘dominate’ the Earth below as explicitly stated in documents of the US Space Command and its components. The US Space Command ‘coordinates the use of Army, Naval and Air Force Space Forces’ and was set up in 1985, its website explains, to ‘help institutionalize the use of space’. US military documents now refer to space as the ‘ultimate high ground’. Huge amounts of money have been put into programmes for space warfare including development of space-based laser weapons. One new US programme is the ‘Space-Based Laser Integrated Flight Experiment’ with a ‘lifecycle budget’ of $20 to $30 billion. One space-based laser already undergoing tests is the Alpha high-energy laser which was reported to have had its 22nd successful test firing last April.

With George W Bush as president and Richard Cheney as vice-president, the US has a national administration committed to expanding US space military activities even further. It is insisting on prompt deployment of a missile-defence system which US military documents describe as one ‘layer’ in an overall space military programme.

What was dubbed ‘Star Wars’ after being unveiled by US President Ronald Reagan in 1983 has never gone away. With its enormously powerful complex of corporate and political backers – and avid support of the US military – it developed a momentum of its own. With the assumption of power by the Bush-Cheney administration, it has received a big boost. As The Washington Post noted upon the Bush selection of Donald Rumsfeld as defence secretary, the new Pentagon chief is the ‘leading proponent not only of national missile defenses, but also of US efforts to take control of space’.

To reinforce and advance the OST, in 1979 the Moon Agreement – its full title: Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies – was adopted at the UN. It restates that space be set aside ‘for peaceful purposes’ and begins what would be regulation of commercial uses of space. It declares ‘the moon and its natural resources’ as ‘the common heritage of mankind’, and states: ‘Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon…shall become property of any state…organisation…or…person.’

But only 14 nations have signed on to the Moon Agreement – and not the US or Russia or other nations currently considered ‘space-capable’. A main reason? ‘The attitude is "we don’t want to share",’ explains Janet Michelle Cuevas, a specialist in space law and UN representative of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power In Space.

Meanwhile, commercial space ventures are increasing and getting rather wild.

When a Russian Proton rocket, for example, lifted off carrying a module for the International Space Station last July, it was emblazoned with a giant Pizza Hut logo. ‘Our sponsorship of this critical mission tells consumers around the world that we’re always looking to take Pizza Hut innovation to new heights,’ said Pizza Hut president Mike Rawlings. Pizza Hut, with 11,100 stores on Earth, also plans to provide pizza pies for the station’s crew.

Virginia-based LunaCorp intends to land robotic vehicles on the moon beginning in 2003 for missions ‘funded by corporate sponsors, exclusive television contracts’ among other sources. RadioShack has become the ‘first corporate sponsor,’ says Luna Corp, of these rovers that ‘will prospect for water and prepare the way for human settlements’.

Even more alarmingly, Colorado-based SpaceDev – ‘the world’s first publicly traded commercial space exploration and development company’ – plans to dispatch a device it calls a ‘Near Earth Asteroid Prospector’ within the ‘next three to five years’ to Nereus, an asteroid believed rich in minerals. SpaceDev wants to declare Nereus private property and stake a claim to mining rights – despite the OST and Moon Agreement.

Mining in space is a main goal of those seeking its commercial exploitation. ‘Indeed, the global expansion of European technology and civilisation brought about by the terrestrial age of exploration is but a pale foreshadowing of the opportunities before us as humans move out into space,’ writes John Lewis, codirector of the NASA/University of Arizona Space Engineering Research Center, in his book, Mining The Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets. And although penetration of space by people and their machines is but a few decades old, already the space above the Earth has become contaminated. There are now 110,000 man-made objects larger than a half-inch orbiting in the space above the Earth, and the situation has gotten so serious that NASA ‘now replaces pitted orbiter windows after most flights’ of space shuttles, notes a 1997 US National Research Council report that warns of potentially catastrophic collisions with space debris. The amount of ‘space junk’ has doubled since 1990 and now poses ‘a navigational hazard,’ says Norwegian space specialist Erik Tandberg. The US and Norway are planning a giant radar station to be called Globus II in Norway’s Arctic specifically to better monitor orbiting debris.

‘A total of over 3,000 tons of space debris surrounds the Earth today,’ says Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a noted biologist and president of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy. The ‘rapid accumulation of debris’ could ‘complicate the further development of astronautics since there would be a direct threat of collision with debris fragments which travel at very high altitudes,’ says Dr. Yablokov.

Among the junk now overhead are 37 nuclear-powered satellites put in space by the US and former Soviet Union. The operation of the satellites is over but the radioactive fuel in them is still hot and lethal and they’ll be falling back to Earth in the centuries ahead.

The use of nuclear power in space – despite serious accidents involving both the US and Soviet/Russian nuclear space programmes – continues. The next proposed US launch of a nuclear-powered device is scheduled for 2003 when NASA plans to send a plutonium-powered space probe called Europa to the moon of Jupiter of that name. The plutonium system is to generate electricity to power onboard instruments. NASA claims it is necessary, that at that distance from the sun, photovoltaic solar cells can’t serve as a substitute (as they now do on satellites because of accidents in which nuclear-powered satellites dropped to Earth dispersing radioactive material). Yet, also in 2003, the European Space Agency will be sending up its Rosetta space probe which will be using high-efficiency solar cells instead of plutonium to produce electricity – and Rosetta is to go beyond the orbit of Jupiter to rendezvous with the comet Wirtanen.

NASA’s insistence on using nuclear power in space is due, in part, to its desire to coordinate its operations with the US military which regards nuclear power as necessary for the high-powered weapons such as lasers it would like to deploy in space in coming years.

Laser treatment

As New World Vistas: Air And Space Power For The 2lst Century, a 1996 US Air Force Board report, states: ‘In the next two decades, new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness to be used to deliver energy and mass as force projection in tactical and strategic conflict… These advances will enable lasers with reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills.’

‘If the US is allowed to move the arms race into space, there will be no return,’ says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. ‘We have this one chance,’ he emphasises, ‘this one moment in history, to stop the weaponisation of space from happening.’

Gagnon, the leader of the nine-year-old Global Network, based in Florida with affiliates throughout the world, adds: ‘For years we polluted our lakes, rivers and oceans thinking that the solution to pollution was dilution. Today we know this was a mistake. But space is now viewed similarly – that it is vast and limitless and that nothing we do in the heavens will have any consequences.’

‘For thousands of years our relations have marvelled at the moon and stars while sitting by their campfires,’ muses Gagnon. ‘Even today, no matter where we live on this planet, we all still feel connected to the night sky. It is a common experience that we all share. Now imagine putting military bases on the moon, or constellations of space-based lasers orbiting the Earth. Imagine weapons in space, possibly powered with nuclear reactors. These are not images that we can accept. We must move now to protect space like we would any other vital wilderness. The heavens must be viewed as a preserve from weapons, nuclear power and massive commercial development. The sky is not for sale.’

American break-away

Try telling that to the US. In recent years, it has become clear that the original wording of the OST left a few grey areas on the subject of weaponry – laser weapons, for example, didn’t exist in those days, so are not specifically banned by the agreement. To clear up any confusion, Canada and China in recent years have put forward resolutions at the UN. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has strongly supported this initiative. As Annan declared at the opening of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1999, space must be maintained ‘as a weapons-free environment’ and he urged ‘we codify principles which can ensure that outer space remains weapons-free’.

However, the US has blocked movement on the resolutions. In a presentation at the UN in 1999, Marc Vidricaire, counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Canada, pointed out that ‘Canada first formally proposed… a legally binding instrument’ for a ‘ban of the weaponisation of space’ in 1997 and renewed it thereafter. He cited a US Space Command report titled Long Range Plan and ‘its recommendation to "shape [the] international community to accept space-based weapons"’. Said Vidricaire: ‘It has been suggested that our proposal is not relevant because the assessment on which it rests is either premature or alarmist. In our view, it is neither. One need only to look at what is happening right now to realise that it is not premature.’

Last year at the UN, Canada again sounded the alarm. ‘Outer space has not yet witnessed the introduction of space-based weapons,’ said Vidricaire. ‘This could change if the international community does not first prevent this destabilising development through the timely negotiation of measures banning the introduction of weapons into outer space… There is no question that the technology can be developed to place weapons in outer space. There is also no question that no state can expect to maintain a monopoly on such knowledge – or such capabilities – for all time. If one state actively pursues the weaponisation of space, we can be sure others will follow.’

In his first address at the UN, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the ‘Millennium Summit’ last year that ‘particularly alarming are the plans for the militarisation of the outer space’ and he proposed ‘under the umbrella of the UN, an international conference’. In Canada at year’s end, Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien issued a joint statement announcing that ‘Canada and the Russian Federation will continue close co-operation in preventing an arms race in outer space’ that will include organising an ‘international conference on the non-weaponisation of outer space’ in 2001.

But why are other countries so opposed to US plans for domination of space? Is it because they genuinely feel it should be left as a ‘wilderness’, or because they want a slice of the action too?

‘Space domination is a hegemonic concept,’ states Wang Xiaoyu, first secretary of the delegation of China to the UN. ‘Its essence is monopoly of space and denial of others’ access to it. It is also aiming at using outer space for achieving strategic objectives on the ground.’ The result, he adds, would be either other nations accepting the US gaining strategic superiority in space or to launch their own programmes. ‘Against this background,’ he said, ‘the international community should act without any further delay to take effective measures, with a view to keeping the worst from happening.’

The following day, at the UN Conference on Disarmament, China formally advanced its resolution for ‘an international legal instrument banning the test, deployment and use of any weapons, weapon system and their components in outer space, with a view to preventing the weaponisation of outer space.’ From the floor, country after country declared support.

A link to the Long Range Plan is provided here. The full document continues more than 100 pages detailing US plans for ‘Control of Space’, ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’, ‘Full Force Integration’, ‘Global Engagement’.

Another US Space Command report is Vision for 2020 which on its cover depicts a laser weapon shooting a beam down from space zapping a target below. Vision for 2020 then proclaims: ‘US Space Command – dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.’

Vision for 2020, issued in 1996, compares the US effort to control space and the Earth below to how centuries ago ‘nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests,’ how the empires of Europe ruled the waves and thus the world.

And Vision for 2020 also stresses the global economy. ‘The globalisation of the world economy will also continue, with a widening between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’,’ says the US Space Command. The US Space Command is readying itself to be ‘the enforcement arm for the global economy,’ says Bill Sulzman, director of Citizens for Peace in Space, the group challenging US space military activities in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the US Space Command is headquartered.

The most recent report outlining US military space plans is Almanac 2000, an Air Force Space Command report that declares: ‘The future of the Air Force is space.’ ‘Into the 2lst Century,’ it says, the US Air Force needs to be: ‘Globally dominant – Tomorrow’s Air Force will likely dominate the air and space around the world… Selectively lethal – The Air Force may fight intense, decisive wars with great precision… The future Air Force will be better able to monitor and shape world events.’

‘Master of Space’ is a motto of the Air Force Space Command. ‘Master of Space’ appears as a uniform patch and is featured in jumbo letters over the entrance of a major Space Command element, the 50th Space Wing in Colorado.

US military leaders are similarly blunt. As General Joseph Ashy, then commander in chief of the US Space Command, put it in 1996: ‘It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but – absolutely – we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space.’ Ashy spoke of ‘space control,’ the US military’s term for controlling space, and ‘space force application,’ its definition for dominating Earth from space. Said General Ashy: ‘We’ll expand into these two missions because they will become increasingly important. We will engage terrestrial targets someday – ships, airplanes, land targets – from space. We will engage targets in space, from space.’

Commercial drive

As hard-driven as the push to make space a new arena of war is the effort to make money from the heavens. Organisations including ProSpace, Archimedes Institute and Space Frontier busily lobby for unfettered capitalism in space.

Allan Wasser, a ProSpace board member, has been especially active in urging that ‘the way to finesse the [Outer Space] Treaty is for the United States to pass a law directing American courts to grant recognition to an extra-terrestrial land claim made by any private entity that has established a true space settlement.’ Wasser says: ‘The 1967 OST is not the norm in human history. The right to claim newly settled property has always provided the economic incentive for human expansion. Would Europeans have settled America if they couldn’t claim ownership of the land they settled?’

On the other hand, Ryder W Miller of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Mercury Magazine has coined a new term – astroenvironmentalism. With the new millenium, notes Miller, ‘private companies and national interests are making plans to tromp around the inner Solar System... The Mars Society would like to have a human presence on Mars and even terraform the planet to suit human purposes. SpaceDev would go to the asteroid Nereus for big bucks… NASA, meanwhile, is facilitating the privatisation of space ventures. All of these ventures have one thing in common: They have not incorporated the concerns or lessons of environmentalism or preservation into their plans to step outward into the Solar System.’ Miller argued that ‘the first goal of environmentalists should be to lobby the United Nations’ and national space agencies ‘to agree to ethical guidelines’. He would like ‘Outer Space Environmental Impact Statements for the world to read’.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) based in Vienna has jurisdiction over the OST and the Moon Agreement. OOSA Associate Legal Officer Philip McDougall notes that the Moon Agreement ‘does not exclude potential commercial activities such as space transportation, space tourism, space based telecommunications, power generation, medical and agricultural product development etc, at all. These could conceivably all be conducted without the need to lay claim to ownership of the moon or other celestial bodies,’ he says.

There are charges that, like governmental regulators of terrestrial activities, OOSA is cosy with commercial interests. Regina Hagen of the Darmstadter Friedensforum in Germany, a board member of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power of Space, notes that when the OOSA-organised UNISPACE III conference in Vienna in 1998 was opened for industry participation there was even a ‘Preparatory Seminar’ titled: ‘The Age of Space Commercialisation. The Evolving Role of Governments and Industries in Enhancing International Cooperating in Space Activities.’

Once commercialisation enters the fray, then legal issues follow quickly behind, not least the matter of liability. For instance, a major provision of the OST is that a nation that launches ‘an object into outer space… is internationally liable for damage’ caused by it. The subsequent ‘Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects’ which entered into force in 1972 and like--the OST is signed by most of the world’s nations, says ‘a launching state shall be absolutely liable’ for such damage.

Yet in 1991, NASA and the US Department of Energy entered into a Space Nuclear Power Agreement covering US space missions involving nuclear devices stated that henceforth the flights would be covered under a US law called the Price-Anderson Act originally passed to shelter the nuclear power industry. The Price-Anderson Act limits liability in the event of a nuclear accident to $8.9 billion for US domestic damage and but $100 million for damage to all foreign nations.

Thus, if an accident occurs on the upcoming Europa plutonium-fueled NASA shot or any of other planned NASA space nuclear missions and there is an accident, despite the international treaty, the US will not accept full liability.

Dangers in the skies

And such accidents have happened. The most serious US mishap occurred on 21 April 1964 when a satellite powered by a SNAP-9A (SNAP for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) fueled with plutonium failed to achieve orbit and dropped from the sky, disintegrating. The 2.1 pounds of plutonium scattered around the world. ‘A worldwide soil sampling programme carried out in 1970 showed SNAP 9-A debris to be present at all continents and at all latitudes,’ according to the 1990 publication, Emergency Preparedness for Nuclear-Powered Satellites, a report by Europe’s Organisation for Economic Cooperation and the Swedish National Institute of Radiation Protection. The worst Soviet space nuclear accident occurred on 24 January 1978 when Cosmos 954, a satellite powered by an onboard nuclear reactor, fell from orbit crashing into the Northwest Territories of Canada splattering nuclear debris over a huge area. ‘Sizeable amounts of radioactive debris… survived reentry and were spread over a 600 km path from Great Slave Lake to Baker Lake,’ notes Emergency Preparedness for Nuclear Powered Satellites.

And five years before the ‘Space Nuclear Power Agreement’ was signed came the Challenger accident and although no nuclear material was on board Challenger when it was sent up on 28 January 1986 and exploded, on its next mission scheduled for May 1986 it was slated to loft a space probe with 24.2 pounds of plutonium fuel.

The current Cassini mission to Saturn involves the most plutonium ever used on a space device, 72.3 pounds. Its most dangerous aspect came on 17 August 1999 when NASA had Cassini whip by the Earth at 700 miles high in a ‘slingshot manoeuvre.’ The idea was to give Cassini a ‘gravity assist’ to provide it with additional velocity so it could reach Saturn. NASA in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission said that if the probe did not pass overhead as planned but dipped into the Earth’s atmosphere – it would making an ‘inadverent reentry’ and break up (it has no heat shield), plutonium would be released and, said NASA, ‘approximately 5 billion of the… world population at the time… could receive 99 per cent or more of the radiation exposure.’

Cassini did get past. But five weeks later, on 23 September, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter in a flight over Mars came in too low and crashed. It turned out that two teams of Mars Orbiter scientists – one from Lockheed Martin, the other from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – had been working with different scales of measurement, one feet, the other metres, in determining altitude.

To deal with burgeoning commercial activities in space, Attorney Cuevas of the Global Network proposes ‘an expansion of international environmental laws’ – the laws that nations have agreed on to protect the oceans, for example – and then ‘integrating’ space environmental statutes into ‘an international space law regime’.

Citizen action at the grassroots is very much needed. ‘Creating a global democratic debate about the kind of seed that humankind should carry into space is the ultimate goal of the Global Network,’ says Gagnon. The group seeks to organise ‘a collective voice that calls for protecting space from the evils that we have sown on this Earth.’
Reprinted with permission from The Ecologist, www.theecologist.org

The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, www.space4peace.org
PO Box 90083, Gainesville, Florida 32607 USA. Tel: +1 352 337 9274
email: globalnet@mindspring.com

To order a copy of “STAR WARS RETURNS” call 718-318-8045 or click here.


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