Karl Grossman

Professor, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury

Convenor, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

Member, Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations


Presentation at Student Environmental Action Coalition Mid-Atlantic

Conference - November 13, 1999

The push by the United States to weaponize and nuclearize space continues with great intensity. Indeed, we have only a narrow window to prevent an arms race in space.

The military of the U.S. is seeking to "control space," to "dominate" space and from it Earth below—and "control" and "domination" are the words repeatedly used in U.S. military documents—to base weapons in space.

The use of nuclear technology in space is intertwined with this. The weapons the U.S. military is interested in deploying in space will need large amounts of power, military reports acknowledge, and nuclear energy is seen as a power source.

As New World Vistas: Air And Space Power For The 2lst Century, a U.S. 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."

But "power limitations impose restrictions" on such-based weapons systems making them "relatively unfeasible….A natural technology to enable high power," it goes on, "is nuclear power in space."

"Setting the emotional issues of nuclear power aside, this technology offers a viable alternative for large amounts of power in space," asserts New World Vistas.

NASA, which just completed the risky Earth "flyby" of its Cassini space probe—carrying 72.3 pounds of plutonium fuel—is planning eight more plutonium-fueled space shots in coming years. In large part, NASA is sticking with nuclear power for space use because of a desire to coordinate its operations with the U.S. military.

People in the United States, indeed people all over the world, must be aware of what the United States is up to and challenge it.

The U.S. push to weaponize and nuclearize space flies in the face of the intent of the Outer Space Treaty, the fundamental international law on space, initiated in 1967 by the U.S., the United Kingdom and former Soviet Union and now signed by 91 nations.

The Outer Space Treaty sets forth space as an area for peaceful uses, says that nations shall not "contaminate" space and that "states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects." The U.S. is scoffing at the Outer Space Treaty.

U.S. military plans for space are explicitly laid out in official U.S. government documents. These include the Vision For 2020 report of the U.S. Space Command. Its cover depicts a laser weapon shooting a beam down from space zapping a target below.

The report proclaims, in wording laid out like in the start of the Star Wars movies: "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 compares the American effort to control space and the Earth below to how centuries ago "nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests" by ruling the seas.

U.S. corporate interests are directly involved in helping set U.S. space military doctrine. As the Long Range Plan of the U.S. Space Command starts out: "The Long Range Plan has been US Space Command’s #1 priority for the past 11 months, investing nearly 20 man-years to make it a reality. The development and production process, by design, involved hundreds of people including about 75 corporations." The Long Range Plan goes on to list those 75 corporations—beginning with Aerojet and going through Lockheed-Martin and Rand to TRW. President Eisenhower warned in the 1950s of a "military-industrial complex" achieving enormous power over U.S. policy. That is now happening in spades and the U.S. military speaks proudly of it.

Guardians of the High Frontier, an Air Force Space Command report, declares, "Space is the ultimate `high ground.’" The Air Force Space Command is committed to "the control and exploitation of space," it says. A Space Command motto proudly displayed is Guardians of the High Frontier: "Master of Space."

Master of Space. That pretty well summarizes the U.S. military attitude.

As General Joseph Ashy, commander-in-chief of the U.S. space command has said: "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….That’s why the U.S. has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms."

General Ashy talks of "space control," the U.S. military’s term for control of space, and "space force application," its definition of control of Earth from space.

Says General Ashy: "We’ll expand into these two missions because they will become increasingly important. We will engage terrestial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space. We will engage targets in space, from space."

And this is far more than rhetoric. Last year, a multi-million dollar contract was signed for a "Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator." The military’s poster for this laser shows it firing its ray in space while an American flag somehow waves in space above it.

Billions of dollars a year are being poured into what is now called U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense, renamed from Strategic Defense Initiative under Reagan and Bush. Missile defense? In context, what the U.S. military appears to want is in large part not defense but offense.

"With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and we’re going to keep it," Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Space Keith Hall, who is also director of the National Reconnaissance Office (which has a $6.8 billion annual budget, nearly three times the CIA’s).

And, meanwhile, the drive to nuclearize space continues unabated. NASA successfully sent its Cassini space probe and its 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide fuel hurtling past the Earth, about 700 miles high, on August 17—to give it a "gravity assist," additional velocity to reach its final destination of Saturn.

That’s the good news: Cassini got past.

The bad news: On September 23 the Mars Climate Orbiter seeking to pass over Mars ended up coming too close to the Martian atmosphere and crashed into Mars. That could have been Cassini and the Earth five weeks before.

It turns out that the two teams of Mars Orbiter scientists were working with differing scales of measurement: one feet, one meters, and that’s how the screw-up occurred. Yes, accidents will happen when human beings are involved.

And even more bad news: NASA, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office’s report last year, Space Exploration: Power Sources for Deep Space Probes, is "studying eight future space missions between 2000 and 2015 that will likely use nuclear-fueled electric generators." The next is Europa Orbiter in 2003.

The European Space Agency, meanwhile, has developed new "high efficiency solar cells" for use in space—as a substitute for nuclear power. Solar instead of nuclear power works in space as on Earth. Indeed, in 2003 ESA will be launching its Rosetta probe using solar arrays for power—to go beyond the orbit of Jupiter to rendezvous with a comet called Wirtanen. "Rosetta will make first contact with Wirtanen about 675 million km from the sun," notes ESA in a recent statement. That’s 500 million miles from the Sun. "At this distance, sunlight is 20 times weaker than on Earth," ESA points out.

But NASA—seeking to coordinate what it does with the military as well as wanting to satisfy Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer of the plutonium-fueled space systems, and the U.S. national nuclear laboratories nuclear involved with their fabrication--sticks with nuclear-in-space. Accidents have already occurred in both space nuclear programs of the the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, now Russia—in fact, there has been a 15% accident rate.

The most serious U.S. mishap occurred in 1964 when the SNAP-9A plutonium power system aboard a satellite crashed to Earth, the satellite and SNAP-9A disintegrating, spreading 2.1 pounds of plutonium around the world. Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, has long connected that mishap to an increase of lung cancer on Earth. The SNAP-9A accident caused NASA to become a pioneer in developing solar photovoltaic energy systems power for satellites.

The worst Soviet space nuclear accident occurred in 1978 when a Cosmos satellite with a nuclear reactor aboard crashed into the Northwest Territories of Canada splattering nuclear debris over a vast area. The most recent Russian space nuclear accident: the crash of the Russian Mars ’96 space probe with a half-pound of plutonium aboard into Chile and Bolivia.

Cassini carried the most plutonium of any space device—so far.

And what a colossal disaster could have occurred if it screwed up.

NASA its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission said that if the probe did not fly overhead as planned but dipped into the Earth’s 75-mile high atmosphere on the "flyby" —making an "inadverent reentry"—it would break up (Cassini had no heat shield) and plutonium would be released and—these are NASA’s words—"approximately 5 billion of the…world population at the time…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure."

NASA, in its plan, said that if plutonium rained down on areas of natural vegetation, it might have to "relocate animals," if it fell an agricultural land, "ban future agricultural land uses" and, if it rained on urban areas, to "demolish some or all structures" and "relocate affected population permanently."

As to the human death toll: Dr. Gofman projected 950,000 dying as a result of a Cassini "flyby" accident. Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor emeritus of radiological physics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, estimated the death toll as high as 40 million.

The Outer Space Treaty declares that "states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects." But, in 1991, the NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy entered into a Space Nuclear Power Agreement to cover America nuclear space flights with the Price-Anderson Act. This is a U.S. law which limits liability in the event of a nuclear to $8.9 billion for U.S. domestic damage and $100 million for damage to all foreign nations.

Thus if an "inadverent reentry" of Cassini back into the Earth’s atmosphere occurred this August, and a part of Europe or Africa or Asia suffered plutonium contamination, all the nations and all the people affected could have collected in damages—despite the amount of land left contaminated, the number of people left with cancer—would have been $100 million.

The military use of space being planned by the U.S. contradicts the intent of the Outer Space Treaty. On November 1, the United Nations General Assembly voted to reaffirm that treaty and, particularly, its provision that space shall be used "for peaceful purposes" and the "exploration and use of outer space…shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries."

Some 138 nations voted for the motion which was titled: "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space." The United States abstained. Abstained.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on January 26th of this year that space must be maintained "as a weapons-free environment."

Said Wang Xiaoyu, First Secretary of the Delegation of China to the Conference on Disarmament, at a seminar at the UN in Geneva on March 11 on "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space"—which I keynoted— organized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom:

"Outer space is the common heritage of human beings. It should be used entirely for peaceful purposes and for the economic, scientific, and cultural development of all countries as well as the well-being of mankind. It must not be weaponized and become another arena of the arms race."

The following day, at the Conference on Disarmament, Li Changhe, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs of China, formally proposed reactivation of the ad hoc committee on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space and having it "negotiate and conclude 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 weaponization of outer space."

China received wide support from other nations on the motion.

The U.S. has been blocking the motion ever since.

Craig R. Eisendrath, a former U.S. State Department official who helped create the Outer Space Treaty, notes that keeping space weapons-free was the original intent of the treaty.

Dr. Eisendrath told a workshop I led on weapons-in-space issues at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference this June that it was in the wake of the Soviet launching of its Sputnik satellite in 1957 that the U.S. sought to "de-weaponize" space—before it got weaponized. The State Department, he explained, used the Antarctica Treaty as a model for the Outer Space Treaty.

But the treaty ended up "just" banning "nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction" in space. It’s time we return to its original intent. And we have only a brief span of time to do so.

For if the U.S. moves forward with its military plans for space, other nations will follow. George Friedman, co-author of this book, The Future of War: Power, Technology & American World Dominance in the 2lst Century—yes, American World Dominance in the 2lst Century—claims that the U.S. can control the Earth for many years ahead because of its technological space prowess. Other nations—he names Russia, Japan and China—are just "passing blips," he says, "to compete with the U.S."

I’ve been to Russia; I’ve been to Japan; I’ve been to China. They are not passing technological "blips." If the United States moves to utilize space as the "ultimate high ground" militarily, to weaponize the heavens, other nations will follow—leading to a new arms race and ultimately war in space.

The people of the world must join with U.S. citizens to stop this move and all of us, together, work—as Secretary-General Annan said in January—"to codify principles which can ensure that outer space remains weapons-free."

We must all work together—and time is of the essence—to end the nuclearization and prevent the weaponization of space.

Karl Grossman, full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, has specialized in investigative reporting for 30 years. Books he has authored include The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet (Common Courage Press). He is writer and narrator of the video documentaries Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and Nukes In Space 2: Unacceptable Risks (EnviroVideo, Box 311, Fort Tilden, N.Y. 11965.

1-800-ECO-TV46) Web Site: http:www.envirovideo.com E-mail: [email protected]

He is a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace. He is convenor as well as a founder of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. Address: Karl Grossman, Box 1680, Sag Harbor, N.Y. 11963 (631) 725-2858 E-Mail: [email protected]

To reach the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power In Space, telephone (352) 337-9274 or E-Mail: [email protected] Its Web Site is: http://www.globenet.free-online.co.uk/