The wonders of the night sky

Peace News, March - May 2001, pages 12-13

by Bruce Gagnon

The US and its allies plan to dominate space militarily and ensure the primacy of western economic and social values. Bruce Gagnon urges us to work to prevent a new arms race now, before it is too late.

What is our vision for the heavens? On a beautiful starry night do you look up to the moon and the stars and feel the connection to the ages?

Can you imagine military bases on the moon and constellations of space-based lasers orbiting our planet? Can you envision the new military space plane, the successor to the shuttle, dropping off new space-based weapons systems and then returning to earth?

We are at a defining moment in history as the US leads the rest of the world into this new space age that ripples with technological advances and challenges the peace and environmental movements to update our thinking and our organising.

Space junk

In 1989 I organised a demonstration at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The keynote speaker that day was an Apollo astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. Mitchell spoke out against Star Wars and told us that if we allow the Pentagon to put weapons into space, and to even test them against old satellites, we will create so much space junk that we will not be able to get a rocket off this planet. Mitchell said that we would be entombed to the earth.

Currently there are 110,000 pieces of "space junk" larger than half an inch orbiting the earth at 18,000 mph. They are tracked on radar screens inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Recently the International Space Station (ISS), which will cost taxpayers well over US$100 billion once completed, had to be moved to a higher orbit because space junk was moving dangerously near to it. On its last mission prior to its fatal launch demise, the shuttle Challenger had its windshield cracked by a tiny speck of paint that hit it while orbiting earth.

A limitless space

We once viewed the oceans, lakes, and rivers as vast and limitless. It was official policy to pour raw sewage and industrial pollution into these bodies because no one imagined that any harm could come from doing so. Dilution was the solution to pollution.

Today, some view space the same way. The heavens are vast and limitless and it is assumed it won't matter what we throw up there in the name of national security. NASA, the Department of Energy (DoE), and the Pentagon do not worry about the consequences of plans to dramatically increase deployments of nuclear materials into space to power space probes and space-based weapons.

Where is the threat?

The ballistic missile defence system is sold to the American people as a way to'protect us from attack by "rogue" states or, as they are now called, "states of concern". National missile defence (NMD) is the $60 billion programme to protect the continental US from "attack". North Korea, one so-called possible enemy, has suspended its missile-testing programme and is now negotiating reunification with South Korea.

China, another state of "concern", has only 20 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US while we have 3,500 to "hit back". Chinese officials have been asking over and over again for the US to join them in signing a global ban on weapons in space. The US refuses to discuss such a ban saying there is "no problem".

Masters of space

Then there is the programme called theatre missile defence (TMD) that would "forward deploy" these systems into the Middle East and Asia to "protect" US interests and outposts. TMD would place weapons on ground launchers, ships, and airborne lasers so that the US could hit "offending" ballistic missiles in their boost phase, right after launch.

The US Space Command, with its logo "Master of Space", is also working hard to develop the space-based laser (SBL) programme, the "follow-on" technology to missile defence. Its expressed intention is to use this programme to protect corporate "interests and investments" around the globe as the gap widens between the "haves" and the "have-nots". The Space Command will become the military instrument by which corporations maintain their global control.

The $30 billion SBL programme will soon begin construction of a test facility at either Cape Canaveral in Florida, Redstone Army Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, or at the Stennis Missile Testing Center in Mississippi. The SBL, the real Reagan-era Star Wars programme, would deploy a constellation of 20-30 lasers orbiting the earth with the job of knocking out "competitors'" satellites and hitting targets on earth. These lasers could very possibly be powered by nuclear reactors. Imagine what would happen if they tumbled back to earth?

"I am often asked if I am opposed to the space programme altogether. Actually I am not. But I believe we should approach space exploration with a sense of awe and mystery." Seeds of destruction

We are now standing on the edge of history, poised to move the bad seed of war, greed, and environmental degradation into the heavens. We have sown this bad seed ever so widely on our fragile planet leaving behind such human suffering and environmental waste that it makes me angry to think about now moving the war system into space.

I am often asked if I am opposed to the space programme all together. Actually I am not. But I believe we should approach space exploration with a sense of awe and mystery. We should approach this final frontier with a reverence for what the heavens will reveal to us, rather than with the arrogance of exploitation.

I often tell the story about my son, who when he was young wanted to stay out on the street after dark playing with his friends. I told him that he was too young, too immature, and that when he showed more maturity we would renegotiate the deal. This is the way I see the space programme. NASA and the Pentagon are showing that they do not have the good judgement or the maturity to be given the responsibility to move off this planet.

I see earth's citizens as the parents. It is the parents' job to protect the children, or in this case the planet, from those who do not demonstrate proper respect for life on this earth and the heavens beyond. Like all good parents who would stop their children from hurting themselves, it is our job to stop the aerospace industry which views space as a new market for war and enormous profit.

A new consciousness

The time has come for a new consciousness about space. Space is not a junkyard or bombing range or playground for the hightech boys with their new expensive toys. It is a place of wonder and life. It is the place where our spirit soars and our dreams live and grow.

The United Nations recognised this when they created the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that says no weapons of "mass destruction" can be put into the heavens. The treaty says that the heavenly bodies are the province of all human kind. We must call for the strengthening of this treaty, not its nullification!

The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space has been working since 1992 to create a new consciousness about space. When we look up at that beautiful moon on a clear night we must remember that everyone on the entire planet has the same experience - it is a unifying symbol for all the people. We cannot allow the Pentagon to think that they can put military bases on the moon or weapons into orbit around earth.

I believe that space must be protected just like any other wilderness. We must create a global movement that says we shall not move the bad seed of war into the heavens. We must not pollute space any longer with nuclear reactors and nuclear generators, and we must stop all planning for US space weapons, and military bases on the moon.


Activists protest at British involvement in the NMD project at Fylingdales, Yorkshire. The base is owned by the Ministry of Defence but leased to the US government. Fylingdales and its sister site at Menwith Hill would perform critical functions for the US system.

Act now for peace

For once, we have a chance to stop something truly horrific before it actually happens. We can prevent an arms race in space before it begins if we act now. If we pause long enough to give the Pentagon and the aerospace industries the opportunity, they surely will move the arms race into the heavens and rob our children and their children of the resources that they need to create a sustainable life on our earth.

We must call out to the public to help us keep space for peace. We must demand that the politicians rescind plans for "missile defence" and the space-based laser. We must say that space will be protected as a wilderness.

Our relations who sat around their council fires for centuries before us marvelled at the wonders of the night sky. We must honour them by preventing the arms race from moving into the heavens. We must keep space for peace.

Bruce Gagnon is the Co-ordinator for the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (GNAWNPS)

GNAWNPS, PO Box 90083, Gainesville, Fl 32607, USA
(tel +1 352 3379274;
email globalnet@mindspring.com;
http://www.space4peace.org).



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