By Bruce Gagnon
Coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
On April 28-29 I bought a $50 admission to the 36th Space Congress: Countdown to the Millennium being held at Cape Canaveral. The meeting was sponsored by NASA, Boeing; Lockheed-Martin, the Air Force and other such luminaries.
I chose to attend the event because on two of the days they were featuring what I see as the two key directions of the space program military space and Mars.
A three-hour plenary session called "Military Space for a New Century" was chaired by Brig. Gen. Randall Starbuck, Commander of the 45th Space Wing at nearby Patrick AFB (which is also in charge of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station). Several times during the session, Starbuck reminded the 300-400 people in attendance that on April 30 the assembled should stick their heads outside to see the exciting Titan IV rocket launch the Air Force was planning. Little did Starbuck know at the time that the troubled Titan IV would fail to place the military satellite (Milstar) into the proper orbit rendering the mission a total failure. Three Titan mishaps in a row (only $3 billion wasted).
Starbuck and two other Air Force officers unveiled the new Vision for 2025 (no copies were available) that calls for more of the same. The "full exploitation of space" using the resources of the "military, aerospace corporations, national labs and academia" was the bottom line. Starbuck reminded the eager attendees that at the present time only 9% of the total Air Force budget goes for military space but they soon hope to push the number to 20%.
Besides funding being a barrier to their drive for total "domination for the warfighter" they also outlined another obstacle. Col. Tom Clark stated that certain "policies and treaties" were also in the way and concluded that "some treaties may need to be renegotiated. We should not ignore the potential for combat in space." During the Questions & Answer period Col. Clark, responding to my written question about the status of Anti-Satellite weapons (ASAT) testing and deployment, stated that deployment would be ready around 2008 but this issue was "politically sensitive". Col. Clark went on to say that ultimately the U.S. would "need an event to drive the public to support ASAT deployment. But it will happen. We are now talking, planning, doing research and development. Someone will attack one of our systems."
Col. Clark's last sentence was stated with such certainty that I felt the cold feeling that somehow he knew the who, how and when of this future attack that would enable the U.S. to finally push beyond the "policies and treaties" to full deployment of ASAT's.
In the meantime Col. Clark assured the crowd that we have the "defensive" Ballistic Missile Defense" (BMD) system (just approved by Congress). It is "obvious that dual use is clear" he said, referring to the fact that lasers in space could be fired either defensively or offensively.
In other areas of "space control evolution" the space warfighters, as they constantly call themselves, reminded us that the U.S. now has 26 ground based space surveillance stations. These "down link" facilities, spread all over the planet, received the data from satellites in split second "real time" and send it directly to U.S. Space Command HQ in Colorado. Recognizing that in a full blown war these sites would themselves be targets, the Air Force is now intending to reduce the size of these stations with new generations of computer technology and our tax dollars.
Micro-satellites, 50 pound multi-missioned movable satellites, are expected to be launched in 2000 and would help to refuel space based lasers and could be used along with the new Int'l Space Station.
Gen. Starbuck concluded the military space plenary by responding to a question about the future of the Air Force in space. Some in Congress have called for the creation of a separate "space force." Starbuck said the Air Force was opposed to the idea. The Air Force he said views space as seamless, air and space must go together, not be divided. So he countered by saying they should become the "Aerospace Force."
MARS OR BUST
The other area of major focus at Space Congress was the mission to Mars.
NASA currently has a couple of spacecraft on the way to Mars. The Mars Global Surveyor mission began mapping the planets surface in March, 1999.
One of the most revealing speakers on the subject was James Ball, Director of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Tourist trap). Ball reported that 3 million people each year visit the complex and that his mission at the tourist facility was to "prepare the way for us to go to Mars by increasing the public's enthusiasm for the mission." The complex is undergoing renovation in order that the Mars mission receive the highest promotion possible.
When you consider the amount of money it would take to put "manned colonies" on Mars you can see why NASA and the aerospace industry are working so hard to convince the public. (They refused several times to answer questions regarding anticipated costs).
But besides the money there is one other big problem. Propulsion! Mars is a long trip and to get there they need a particularly powerful propulsion system.
In a plenary entitled Beyond Shuttle: Continued Access to Space, I again asked a question in writing. This time I asked for a report on the status of the nuclear rocket to Mars. Russ Turner, an executive with the United Space Alliance responded that the nuclear rocket was "a bigger political question than a technical question. I predict there will be political problems." Obviously he was referring to our long opposition to nuclear power in space. But just to make things clear, another panelist, Rick Stephens, V-P of Boeing Reusable Space Systems added, "The last one was Cassini and a lot of you lived through that one." All in all there were 3-4 direct references to our work against Cassini during my two days at the event.
But in a workshop called Space Systems Mars and Beyond, attended by well over 100 people, the issue of nuclear rockets to Mars would not die. Michael Houts, from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama made it clear that the "key to future manned Mars missions" was the nuclear rocket. The audience was in near consensus (except for me I think) that James Ball needed to work harder to get the visitors at the space center visitor complex moving behind the mission to Mars as quickly as possible. That meant "remove the barriers of money and politics" right away!
In the second plenary I was actually able to get two of my written questions answered. My second one was "How can we ensure that the bad seed of war, greed and environmental degradation not be taken with us as we move into space?" Now I must admit that I never thought this question would be read to the assembled audience. But David Gump, President of Luna Corp. read it to the entire crowd and I smiled with glee as I listened to the chorus of groans from around the big meeting room. (The audience was filled with military space personnel, NASA employees and aerospace corporation executives.)
Anyway, Mr. Gump responded to my question by saying, "First, about the environmental degradation. You can't hurt the moon and asteroids because they are already dead." Luna Corp. is now planning to put a nuclear powered rover on the moon to search for water and minerals. Then Gump concluded by stating that "Greed? I'm in favor of greed." The audience laughed. Gump didn't say anything about the war part of the question. Maybe he is still thinking about that bad seed.