NASA grounds Shuttle; outer space temporarily safe from US imperialist aggression

No, we aren’t being sarcastic.

The Space Shuttle “Discovery”—the first sent into flight since the Shuttle fleet was grounded following the mid-flight destruction of the “Columbia” in 2003—succeeded in docking at the International Space Station this week, but only after performing an unprecedented back-flip so astronauts on board could photograph the craft’s underbelly for signs of damage. NASA managers discovered the “Discovery” was still shedding big pieces of foam insulation on launch, and have again suspended future flights. One chunk captured on camera was almost as big as the one that banged into the heat shield of Columbia’s wing, dooming the craft and its seven astronauts. NASA has already poured $1.4 billion into trying to make the shuttle fleet safer since the Columbia disaster, and frustrations are mounting. “Maybe the money would be better spent on replacing the shuttle, rather than flying it,” suggested John Pike, who directs the web site (AP, July 28)

Well, we like Pike’s informative and basically progressive website, and we’re glad AP is going to him for quotes. But we have some bettter ideas as to what to do with that money: like, give it to starving Africans. Or even to the New York subway system so strap-hangers will spared the specter of yet another fare hike. The obscenity of these astronomical sums being squandered on high-tech gee-whizzery in the heavens when there is so much suffering down here on Earth reminds us of Gil Scott Heron‘s wry reaction to the 1969 moon landing:

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)…

Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wuzn’t enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

Another quote from the AP: “Our manned space program has come almost to a dead stop in the last two-and-a-half years,” complained retired astronaut Owen Garriott, who helped write a Planetary Society report last year on the future of human space flight. “The space station has been able to keep going, but it’s really just limping along.”

To which we say: Hallelujah! Nearly universally overlooked in the news coverage is the fact that space flights often have nuclear materials on board, making disasters like that of the Columbia, or the Challenger in 1986, a threat to the health of millions of us Earth-bound folks. And any replacement for the Shuttle fleet is likely to actually be nuclear-powered—and under direct control of the Air Force rather than NASA, which has really been reduced to a mere appendage of the Pentagon anyway. And this is really the greater point: despite bogus names like “Discovery” which invoke objective science and exploration of space, the US space program is today overwhelmingly about military control of Earth—maintaining Washington’s global supremacy. This isn’t conspiracy theory, it is simple fact, admitted (even bragged about, when you catch them in the right mood) by the Pentagon brass themselves. As we have noted before, space-based surveillance was critical to the US “victory” in Iraq in 2003. Writes Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space:

In the Air Force Space Command’s Strategic Master Plan for fiscal year 2006 and beyond, the military said, “Our vision calls for prompt global strike space systems with the capability to apply force from or through space against terrestrial targets. International treaties and laws do not prohibit the use or presence of conventional weapons in space.”

There was once a treaty that limited the research, development, testing and deployment of such offensive space systems. It was called the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia. Once in office, George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the treaty and moved forward with expanded research and development on offensive space weapons.

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was largely coordinated from space. More than 70 percent of the weapons used in the war were guided to their targets by military satellites. Thus, the Pentagon maintains the United States must “deny” other nations the use of space in order to maintain “full spectrum dominance.”

To sell this space warfare program to the American people, the Pentagon has labeled it “missile defense.” But the program is all about offensive engagement and was first spelled out in the 1997 Space Command Plan, Vision for 2020, that called for U.S. “control and domination” of space.

In another piece, Gagnon cuts to the chase as to what the US space program is really all about:

Space technology is being developed for two primary reasons. One is to give nations the ability to see the Earth and to better coordinate warfare on the planet — using space to project power for military benefit on Earth.

The second reason is that many nations and corporations view space as the “new world.” Gold on asteroids, water and helium-3 on the moon, magnesium, cobalt, and uranium are believed to be on Mars. Corporations intend to venture to these planetary bodies and secure massive profits in the years ahead. But first new space technologies have to be created that make it possible, and cost effective, to “mine the skies.”

Again, as we have noted, Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. This may seem laughable, invoking images of the current California governor’s 1990 action flick Total Recall, in which the Red Planet is run as an oppressive mining colony by sleazy space-age robber barons. But don’t laugh too hard: remember, people laughed when Jules Verne anticipated lunar landings and trans-oceanic submarine travel just a century before these became realities. And the pace of technological “advancement” (to use a loaded word) is far faster today.

But fellow space-skeptics can take heart from NASA’s latest snafu. With the Shuttle fleet grounded, the US is ironically once again dependent on Russia’s own fast-deteriorating Soyuz spacecraft to maintain the space station, seen as a key stepping-stone for hubristic plans to reach Mars—a dilemma we have also noted. And there are concrete political obstacles to US-Russian space cooperation—like US opposition to Moscow’s nuclear assistance to Iran, and Russia’s opposition to Washington’s military designs on Central Asia. Moscow is irked at having to play subordinate space-mercenary for a program which will really only advance US domination of the Final Frontier (and Planet Earth); and Washington is actually constrained by legal sanctions from providing space technology to Russia as long as Russia provides nuclear aid to Tehran. Of course this Russo-American rivalry carries grave risks of its own (the Great Game for Central Asia is a potential flashpoint for global conflagration, and both sides still have plenty of nukes). But at least it is likely to paralyze Washington’s space ambitions, which can only increase the odds of peace down here on Terra Firma.


See our last post on NASA’s space hijinks.

  1. Thank goodness it was not powered by a nuclear reactor

    An unmanned supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded shortly after its launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The Antares, built by Orbital Sciences Corp, combusted seconds after leaving the seaside launch pad. (BBC News, Oct. 29)

    The website Listverse has a list of the "Top 10 Space Age Radiation Incidents," including a Soviet disaster in 1969 that spread radiation "over a large area of Russia." This was at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the remote deserts of Kazakhstan.

    Next time it could be Virginia or Florida. Remember that.

    1. Blow to space tourism program

      We're sorry about the loss of life, but not the loss of this hubristic space-toy. Not even a guise of "science," just prestige "space tourism" for the ultra-rich. Sickening. From AP, Oct. 31:

      A Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket exploded Friday during a test flight, killing a pilot aboard and seriously injuring another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said.

      The company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson would not say what happened other than that it was working with authorities to determine the cause of the "accident."

      "During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo," Virgin Galactic tweeted.

      Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, told The Associated Press that SpaceShipTwo exploded after a plane designed to take it to high altitude released it and the craft ignited its rocket motor.

      Brown said the wreckage fell in the desert north of Mojave Air and Space Port, where the test flight originated. The area is about 120 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.