Wednesday, May 18, 2005

New Star Wars Grand Opening - Bush Style

There are no lovable Wookies named Chewbacca in this version of Star Wars. And there will be no collectable action figures of heroes or villians for children to collect. This is a new race soon to begin to weaponize space. For the last 35 years, spy satellites traveling at mach 25 have patrolled the heavens to not only survey the weapons capabilities of a number of nations, but have often proved useful in surveying weather dangerous weather conditions such as storms or surveying storm damage, so not all of the spy satellite potential has been used militarily by a number of nations who have them.

And much of the known space programs of the U.S., Russia and China, have been peaceful and scientific such as the American Space Shuttle, Russian Soyuz and Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft, and the international cooperation of the International Space Station. From the Cold War days with the successful launch of the October 1957, Soviet satellite Sputnik through the 1969 Apollo moonlanding, the area of space gradually became matured into an area of scientific admiration, mutual respect and peaceful exploraton.

But many painful steps for the U.S. and the former Soviet Union came along the way towards this peaceful and scientific exploration of space. On January 27, 1967, a ground countdown test of new three man Apollo 1 resulted in a fatal ground fire when the oxygen-rich cabin quickly burned with intense heat and flames when some electric short created a spark. Also in 1967, the Soviet Soyuz 1 capsule was to dock with the Soyuz 2 capsule to be launched a day later, but instead the mission was scaled back after heavy rains made the second launch impossible. So the mission was scaled down to merely some earth orbits by Soyuz 1, but on reentry a drag chute became entangled with another and the cosmonaut was killed as the craft crashed into the earth at high speed. In 1971, the Soviets had another fatal space tragedy. It was clear the Soviets could not win a race to land the first man on the moon, and would lose this challenge that President Kennedy set down for America. The Soviets instead concentrated on space station construction and the ability to keep men in space for extended periods. The Soyuz 11 craft's mission was to dock with the small Salyut space station, but a number of problems hampered this mission. There was a small fire in space, a problem with some instrument failure, and a fatal problem on reentry where a small valve hatch opened automaticly and released the cabin oxygen supply for the three man crew. There was a desperate attempt to hand crank this valve hatch shut, but probably the cosmonaut's blood boiled and they died very quickly before they could keep any oxgen pressure in the cabin. Because of space limitations this three man crew had no spacesuits in this craft, which contributed to this tragic accident.

In more recent times more tragedy has stricken space exploration. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger blew apart after launch when a defective "O" ring caused one of main fuel tanks to cause a fatal explosion. The crew cabin flew from the sky and hit the ocean at terrific force. And the body recovery mission was so secretative, that strong information claims that nearly intact bodies where thrown into the back of a pickup truck with a tarp covering them, and secretly transported back to pieces recovery center. This terrible possible revelation and a long soul searching look into what went wrong grounded the U.S. space program for an extended period. Then in 2003, disaster again struck when the Columbia broke up into pieces upon reentry. Apparently some tile damage may have created a small hole, and as the wings heated upon reentry, hot flames built inside the wing and the breakup process caused another fatal accident. Again the American space program is grounded and very slow to restart. Now only 2 out of 4 spaceflight capable Space Shuttle vehicles remain, the Discovery and Atlantis. The Enterprise named after the famous Star Trek television program is a test vehicle, and is not spaceflight capable.

After the succcessful moon landing, the NASA program seemed to wane in public interest. Most of the world carefully followed the first 1969 moon landing. But each mission suffered from less and less public interest, less news coverage. And worst of all, money for the space effort seemed to dry up. Other budget priorities continued to eat away at the NASA budget. And the thrify Space Shuttle program, the idea of a reusable vehicle to save money, seems to be a very bad design, fatal accidents to 50% of spaceflight capable vehicles and the only American deaths from actual space flight. Even the problem plagued Apollo 13 had enough backup systems, including the Lunar Module which acted as an emergency lifeboat as the Command Module lost vital oxygen and power after an oxygen tank "stirring" explosion in space on the way to a moon landing. This forced the return to earth with the oxygen and power from the Lunar Module, whose walls are nearly as thin as paper to keep the astronauts alive in space. And more drama developed during landing with a fear of whether the heat shields were damaged and whether the Command Module main capsule could even survive the reentry. The world was united in prayer, with the Pope calling on world prayer, and after an extended and frightening communications blackout upon reentry, the crew radioed that they did indeed survive a safe ocean splash down. In the 1960's through 70's , the space program seemed so much safer than today. Failure and disaster is now very common because budget cuts have forced too many corner cutting plans to keep a space program alive with a budget clearly inadequate to fund an adequate safe space program.

Now in this era of high space failures, the Bush White House and Pentagon war planners want to convert the long peaceful area of space research into a more military dominated area. And like the recent Shuttle disasters this area of space weapons has been both expensive and without much real success. In 2002, after a report by Donald Rumsfeld's own commision on space weapons, President Bush withdrew America from the 30 year old Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Part of this agreement banned space based weapon systems. And during the Reagan years, the Reagan Administration toyed with the idea of a Star Wars space weapons systems program, and even a bizarre proposal to share the weapons with any other nation, including the Soviet Union which Reagan referred to as the "Evil Empire".

Besides creating a possible new space race with arms in space with China and Russia, and eventually other states, the reality is that after lots of money, both the Reagan era space arms and the current Bush proposed ones have had a terrible rate of failure in tests. After 22 years and $100 billion dollars, the Pentagon and military contractor plans for a ground based ABM system have resulted in little more than complete failure. Antimissile rockets with the very best of puppeteering and careful orchestration could hardly knock down a test "enemy missile" in even the most carefully controlled of tests. Yet the Bush Administration is again throughly convinced in the logic of Donald Rumsfeld that despite 22 years of failure, a working system of space based weapons can be constructed.

This April, a small microsatellite the XSS-11, with the claimed ability to disrupt military satellites that provide spy functions as well as military commands was launched. Whether this satellite functions as it should is not known, because military weapons of this type are not completely open news to the public. And other programs are like the so-called, "Rods From God" project. This space weapon is supposed to hurl cylinders of uranium, titanium or tungsten at a speed of 7,200 miles an hour from space at earth military targets. With this much force and heat, each of these, including the uranium weapons would be like an atomic bomb hitting a target. The amount of damage would be horrific. Two more experimental weapons would use a space mirror system to destroy ground targets with laser beams. While the last would use radio waves to cause damage.

Currently the only real practical military use of space is spy satellites. These are either photo imaging that can view a 5or 6 inch ground object from space, or the Lockheed Martin designed radar-imaging spy satellite systems which can view North Korean missiles or other objects that are at least 3feet in size. In Iraq and Afghanistan, some small Predator drone aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles can patrol the skies in search of insugents planting roadside bomb devices or seek out insurgent leaders and fire a missile to kill this leadership. These 27 foot small aircraft can stay airbourne for up to 24 hours and are remotely operated for service in Iraq and Afghanistan by satellite from military command centers in the mainland U.S., many miles from the MidEast they patroll.

It is a depressing note that space which has long been an area for scientific study as well as cooperative research and joint space missions, could now become a new weapons frontier. From the days of Gerald Ford, when Soviet and American space explorers met in space, a new era of cooperative study of God's great heavens was opened. Now with the backing of Donald Rumsfeld, and the militaristic views of the Bush White House, space may be subverted into just another area to station weapons that kill rather than study the great heavens. Yet with so many American space failures currently, the U.S. seems like not the very best party to enter this space arms race. The kerosene based Russian rockets seem so much more reliable than the more complex and explosive and accident prone oxygen and hydrogen based rocket boosters used by America. And a simple high altitude plutonium missile explosion over the U.S. by any potential enemy power could knock out all ability for electric equipment to function including all military weapons that are electrically driven as well as the family automobile or simple wristwatch. American land based nuclear missiles could probably not be able to launch against the electrical function impairing effects of this defensive "plutonium umbrella" by an enemy state. And the old fashioned tube design of nearly all Soviet era and current Russian designed aircraft woud function with far less problems in a high radiation release warfare environment than American aircraft which is of advanced solid state design, and could likely fail to function properly with high radiaton in a combat situation. In fact even static electricity is sometimes fatal to some solid state chip functions. So a high radiation environment would be far more lethal to American solid state operated aircraft or weapons.

With so many possibilities for a "plutonium umbrella" to block mainland U.S. military functions, sea based attack submarines would become a vital form of defense for America. However, with such a long 22 year period of space weapon failures, and a Space Shuttle program with a 50% loss ratio, it seems like a bad area for the Bush Administration to make a new space weapons stand to make up for possible problems in land based defenses in time of war. While American weapons research is far beyond current Russian or Chinese capabilities, still the weaknesses of our space program illustrate a nation ill prepared to extend the horrors of war to this new space frontier. Detering an enemy state from an attack on the U.S. to make America a safe place to live, free from fear of North Korean or other missiles taking the lives of our families and burning our cities to crisp in the 100,000 degree heat of an enemy nuclear device is an acceptable goal of erring on the side of caution. But a new "Star Wars" that creates a dangerous space arms race is a very depressing change in many years of peaceful space exploration between the states of the world. The former Soviet Union and the U.S. were probably brought closer together by the goodwill of a handshake in space that thawed bad Cold War relations in the Gerald Ford years. But the Bush Administration, in yet another military miscalculation from Donald Rumsfeld could be slowly closing this window on positive Russian-U.S. relations forged by this historic handshake and mutual respect in space. Bush's version of Star Wars is far less entertaining than the George Lucas version opening in theatres, and as states like China gain ownership of companies such as IBM with new potential to develop their own space weapons to counter any American space arms created. And instead of the Russian Federation dstroying many nuclear devices, a new space race could reverse this trend and create a new era of "Cold WarII". Like so many other objectionable Bush policies, this is another potential "Pandora's Box" of new difficulties that Bush can create and make the mistake of Iraq look like a very small affair.