Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Denial vs. the National Space Policy

Recent events have motivated me to comment on the National Space Policy. It must be remembered that my perspectives are mine and mine alone. I do not make policy; I am duty-bound to defend whichever policies are put in place by the nation's leadership.

When the US national space policy was released a few months ago, every self-appointed pundit (including Bill Nye, TV's "Science Guy") came out of the woodwork to condemn it as "George Bush's declaration of war on space." The belief was that the United States would move unilaterally to weaponize space under the current policy. That belief is also a farce, born out of denial of the entire history of space programs across the world.

On this past January 11th, China allegedly conducted a successful test of an anti-satellite missile. The event is a technological breakthough similar to what the US accomplished with its successful ASAT test of 1985. Not long before the Chinese ASAT test, the Pentagon publicly expressed concern about Chinese anti-satellite activities involving lasers. Again, this is similar to another provocative test from the cold war, when the Soviets blinded the Space Shuttle.

Tracing the history of the space age shows that the military was involved even before the first satellites were launched. Further, the armed forces of the major spacefairing nations have always looked at space as "the high frontier" where they could gain a strategic advantage over potential enemies. Ever since the 1950's, nations have examined anti-satellite systems, satellite inspection, orbital bombardment, missile defense, and even outposts on the moon.

To claim that President Bush is "starting a new arms race in space" is a naive and partisan fantasy that flies in the face of over 50 years of history. The arms race in space has always been with us throughout the space age. Its progress has been slow, but it has never stopped. People take alarm at America's actions in this old and ongoing race, but America is at a disadvantage because it allows far more of its activities to become public knowledge than the Russians or Chinese do. That's what living in an open and free society is all about. (The number of dissenters and malcontents is a good barometer of how free a society really is.)

The rate of the space arms race is something that will be decided, based on current and projected events, by America's political and military leadership. While the need for missile defense may have seemed sketchy when the Soviet Union collapsed, it seems far more plausible in the present now that North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and other baddies are developing both long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. At the same time, American space arms programs can also be used to deter further arms development. In the Dec 2004 issue of Spaceflight, and later in The Space Review, preeminent space historian Dwayne Day argues that the net effect of US ASAT efforts in the 1980's was to deter the Soviets from continuing with their even more elaborate ASAT efforts.

As far as the national space policy is concerned, America definitely needs the flexibility to respond to all threats upon its space assets. While America should not try to be an aggressor in denying space access to peaceful nations, it also shouldn't concede the high frontier to aggressors based on idealistic principles. Nor will America allow itself to be caught asleep on the job; the complacency that culminated in the Pearl Harbor attack must not be repeated in the field of outer space. The United States will have to remain vigilant about the space arms race that has been going on for over 50 years, and come up with a measured response that will ensure its right to access space and protect its assets.