Space is for Peace

by Nick Winlund

November 2 2003

I recently attended a lecture given by former International Space Station astronaut Don Pettit at Oregon State University in the Memorial Union on its 75th anniversary in Corvallis, Oregon. I walked out after the tone of the O.S.U alumnus scientist turned spacefarer became too hawkish for me. The lecture seemed to start smoothly. One attendee asked about the feasibility of the X Prize shuttle ( ), part of a privately-funded space endeavor. Pettit said it was "natural for people to want to go into space" then cautioned the audience about how X Prize's use of pressurized cabins without $200,000 pressurized spacesuits for its occupants was inadvisable.

Pettit and his internationally funded fellow cosmonauts wore these orange suits while aboard the Space Station. Pettit said the likelihood of people being killed or rendered unconscious due to an onboard malfunction would be higher without use of the suits since these suits offered a measure of redundancy or were a fail-safe for a shuttle's environmental systems. Pettit repeatedly used the word killed in reference to those who would neglect to wear spacesuits. All this came after a question from another member of the audience on the subject of life and death. That question was from me.

I introduced myself and asked Pettit about the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. I read four paragraphs briefly outlining the context to the U.N. General Assembly treaty ( ) ratified by 98 nations. They are:

"the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;

outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;

outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;

States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner"

As I read the paragraphs in an audible, neutral tone for all to hear I could tell from my periphery the audience was uncomfortable with the content of my statements and questioning Pettit on the ethics of O.S.T. They shifted in their seats and looked around nervously. These words were in direct confrontation to the cartel that currently runs the White House in Washington, D.C. and Dick Cheney's plans for military dominance in space (U.S. Space Command merged with U.S. Strategic Command: ). I think it reminded those attending Pettit's speech that the neo-conservatives appointed power would like nothing more than to repeal every provision of O.S.T. and privatize every aspect of NASA.

I did not expect a skittish reaction from Pettit -- a man trained both in science and learned from space travel. He called O.S.T. "utopian" (that word has merely historical connotations now -- peace is peace and war is war). Pettit said "there would always be warring" between people over things like the extraction of resources from the Moon or Mars. He repeated this train of thought with words like conflict and warring used repeatedly. I gradually realized it was not I who had changed the tone of the lecture but Pettit. The audience seemed uncomfortable with Pettit's direction of conversation. I refrained from saying anything further.

It is contradictory to say it's "natural for people to want to go into space" and then say or intimate that any part of space subjected to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty or by means of use or occupation is inevitable. If claims of sovereignty by government or corporations were rewritten or renewed, enforced and upheld on a large scale here on Earth we'd be devolving ourselves back to the Dark Ages and feudalism. It is also ironic that Pettit started out his lecture by addressing the balancing of economic viability with scientific investigation and how some scientists have had to use more pitch and less science when making their case to grant committees and sponsors. Here on Earth despite setbacks we've managed to implement and further models of sustainable commerce in many sectors, including the life and physical sciences. Surely we can do the same in space?

I implore Mr. Pettit and more importantly future spacefarers to come to the realization war is a man-made condition that can be thrown aside. Armed conflict must not ever again be confused with personal competition (pushing oneself to do better for gain) or interpersonal competition (pushing oneself and others to do better for individual and/or collective gain), nor should any form of human competition or cooperation lead to hunger, disease or socionomic ruin (author Robert Prechter's version of the word socio-economic).


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