Demands on Future Space Research and Policy
Regina Hagen

Excerpts of contribution to WILPF Seminar "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space", March 10, 1999

Transparency and open dialogue about space use:

In their coalition agreement, the new German government promised open dialogue with citizens on all major technological developments. And yet they did not fulfil these promises at last week’s Darmstadt conference. Last week, the German Ministry of Research, for example, were unable to send a representative to the Darmstadt conference. The management of the European Space Agency and the German space agency (DLR) decided less than a week before the conference that none of their representatives could attend. This attitude is unacceptable. The DLR guidelines (Leitlinien) talk about promoting employees, securing and creating the future, contributing to national defense and security, and improving competitiveness. However, they do not mention anything about citizen participation.

The closest statement to this is that the DLR wants to contribute to social needs –whatever they might mean by this. Why shouldn’t citizens contribute to defining their own needs? During the conference, we understood that the refusal to enter into dialogue was related to current budget debates. The ESA wants an increase in the German funding from DM 970 million to approx. DM 1.6 billion in 2003 - this is a 60% increase. Such a proposal should be widely discussed in the public as well as in parliament. Although the proposed budget increase is due to be approved at the ESA ministerial council meeting in Brussels in May this year, clearly this does not provide enough time to adequately discuss issues which are of grave importance to the European and international community. We therefore propose a moratorium on further budget increases so that these debates can take place.

Exclude use of nuclear power sources for space missions:

So far, at least 71 nuclear-powered space missions have been launched. Ten of them encountered serious problems or accidents. More plutonium-238 has been dispersed into the atmosphere by an accident with a U.S. SNAP-9A plutonium generator in 1964 than by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, all nuclear reprocessing plants, and the Chernobyl accident in combination, according to NASA information. Current NASA plans include eight nuclear-powered space missions for which new plutonium generators are being designed and US production of plutonium-238 is expected to begin again. This represents not only considerable risks to life on earth but also undermines any attempts to prevent the proliferation of plutonium on a world-wide scale. Development of solar power supplies should be improved. If solar alternatives are not feasible, space missions should be postponed until technology has advanced.

Prohibition on military projects:

Military space projects must generally be prohibited. Weapons must generally not be deployed in space. Contractual provisions should also exclude the dual-use of civilian space technology and devices. Space agencies must not participate in military space projects.

Adherence to and enhancement of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty:

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which prohibits a national missile defense for the U.S. and for Russia must be adhered to. Recent moves in the US to undermine the treaty present a clear threat to international stability. We demand that the treaty be multilateralized and its scope broadened to include a European dimension.

Strengthen international law in space:

The Outer Space Treaty reserves the use of space for peaceful purposes. We must, however, not neglect the fact that civilian space technology has a high potential for military use. Because the lines are blurred, there should be closer co-operation between the Office of Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) in Vienna and the Conference on Disarmament (CoD) in Geneva. We urge UN delegates to make clear statements against any military use of space and to strengthen the position of the UN with regard to dual use.

Interdisciplinary dialogue about space use and responsibility:

Space use should be discussed by interdisciplinary groups. The attitude of "it is not my business" ("I just provide an experiment, I have nothing to do with the power supply," or "All I do is observe decertification. I have nothing to do with military operations") is not acceptable. We are all players on the same field - each scientist is responsible for his or her work and its overall context.

Disclosure of the usefulness or value of space projects:

We should always be informed about the usefulness of space projects. Basic research is of course legitimate, but it requires a consensus within the society that this "luxury" is wanted. There should be a real, even if future, use for society as a whole. Private profit of companies, organizations, or individuals should not be the sole justification for space projects. In this context it should also be made clear that the number of jobs created in space industry or in technological competitiveness is not a justification per se. The space budget of the German Ministry of Education and Research, for example, amounts to approx. DM 1.3 billion. According to the industrial aerospace association BDLI (Bundesverband der deutschen Luft- und Raumfahrtindustrie), 6.150 people are currently working on space projects in Germany. This means that each employee is subsidized with DM 200.000 per year. To do so might well be justifiable, but the usefulness and value of this subsidy should be explained to the tax payer.

Right for complete and understandable information:

We have a right to obtain complete information about planned projects. The information must be presented such that it can be understood by educated citizens. An example of incomplete information is the ESA’s public relations about the Cassini/Huygens mission. The ESA simply ignores the use of plutonium generators and thus conceals important information about the project from the public. Another example is NASA’s latest campaign about the Deep Space 1 mission. All public announcements stress the use of an innovative ion thruster which continuously accelerates the probe during the flight to its destination. Therefore ion thrusters are an ideal propulsion for deep space missions.

NASA, however, withholds the information that ion thrusters require a lot of energy. The power can be provided by solar panels up to a certain distance from the sun only. For deep space missions, nuclear energy supplies would have to be used. To make an educated judgement about the desirability of this kind of propulsion for deep space missions, all facts must be published by NASA.

Space agencies must adhere to policy set by elected bodies:

The decision about space projects is too important to leave it to industry or space agencies. The government and other elected bodies in consultation with citizens groups should set the policy guidelines for space research and use which must then be adhered to by the space agencies.

Accountability of space agency executives according to the ethical criteria:

Executives of space agencies should be accountable for their decisions and for any negative effects of their space missions. Accountability and an open information policy are a must for all hi-tech organizations which are funded from tax-payers money. To put it bluntly: no dialogue – no money!

Fair distribution of financial resources:

Proper funding should exist not only for established and mainstream institutes but also for critical scientists. We need them. Many problems are caused by experts. We have the right to co-operate with experts who solve or, even better, avoid the problems and who are concerned with peace, conflict resolution, and sustainability.

Unbiased examination of feasible alternatives:

Alternatives to the planned space missions should be examined. Investigations should be undertaken to find out whether simpler, cheaper, safer, better solutions are feasible. These investigations should be conducted by independent experts from various disciplines.


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