S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Militarization of Space? Why?

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Muslim astronaut from Malaysia

Is the only way of saving NASA to use the military's rockets to get to the ISS and on to the moon? Just like a number of other Obama transition teams, the space team has been gathering information that will be used to assist the President in deciding his administration's space policy for the future.

Julie Payette, Canadian astronaut.

Hold on, Mr. President-elect -- My co-assistant editor at The Reaction, Libby Spencer broke this story yesterday at The Impolitic, and I must say she makes the points that I want to reinforce with this post. The U.S. has long been committed to the principle of living out the peaceful use of space. The International Space Station truly lives up to its international name, with the deep and wide participation for years with the U.S., of Canada, Russia, the European Union and Japan, to name but a few. To quote Libby:

I have mixed feelings about this news. Obama’s transition team is pondering merging NASA and Pentagon programs on manned space missions . . .

I find myself in agreement with Chris Bowers on this one. While I'm excited at the prospect of combining our efforts to make our space exploration program more efficient, I'm not keen on giving the Pentagon more control over civilian programs. It seems to me that line has become much too blurred already.

There are complex problems now confronting the Obama Space Transition Team. Today's News story reveals a great deal more about the issues. They range from political and budgetary, to those associated with turf wars, and to competition with our old adversaries Russia and China. NASA administrator, Mike Griffin and Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, have been in direct conflict over NASA's planned future for the Constellation program, the next generation of manned vehicles after the Space shuttles are retired. Griffin is publicly concerned that the six members of the transition team "lack the engineering expertise to properly assess some of the information they have been given" about the program now in place. The Orlando Sentinal article, from which this info comes, details the primary areas of disagreement, including Griffin's demands that NASA personnel and contractors pre-clear what they say to Obama's team. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin's wife and others are lobbying the Obama Transition team to keep Griffin on into the next administration. Though Griffin may be the best administrator ever at NASA, his political handling of all of this has been ham handed, and inelegant. It will not serve him or the space agency well.

Five-year hardware gap after Shuttle retires -- More recently the articles add new complications to the issues surrounding NASA's future. A New York Times piece, "The Long Countdown: The Fight Over NASA's Future," views the questions more from a scientific point of view than a political one. The engineering requirements, as always with space hardware, are absolutely daunting. The Space Shuttles are old, and Griffin maintains, increasingly unsafe to fly.

Anousha Ansari, Pavel Vinogradov, Jeff Williams.

Russia's Soyuz space craft are minimalist but sturdy and pretty dependable as taxis back and forth to the ISS. There is nothing demeaning about the U.S. being in a position of interdependence with Russia in space. I cannot think of a better pause-maker in U.S./Russian relations than the joint knowledge that our folks "are up there depending on the trust and good will of each other and their leaders just to stay alive." Would it not be possible to imagine an analogous situation some day with China? After all our two countries are deeply interdependent on the trading and financial good will of each other.

Then there is the national security aspect, just beginning to come to the fore following China's shoot-down of their old satellite last year. The impetus may also come from an implied competition with China's unilateral manned space program. Yesterday's Yahoo! News headlined, "Obama Moves to Counter China With Pentagon-NASA Link." To quote rather extensively:

The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites, the lofty battlefield eyes of the military.

. . . China, which destroyed one of its aging satellites in a surprise missile test in 2007, is making strides in its spaceflight program. The military-run effort carried out a first spacewalk in September and aims to land a robotic rover on the moon in 2012, with a human mission several years later.

. . . Obama has said the Pentagon’s space program -- which spent about $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, almost a third more than NASA’s budget -- could be tapped to speed the civilian agency toward its goals as the recession pressures federal spending.

NASA faces a five-year gap between the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the first launch of Orion, the six- person craft that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station and eventually the moon. Obama has said he would like to narrow that gap, during which the U.S. will pay Russia to ferry astronauts to the station.

. . . At the Pentagon, there may be support for combining launch vehicles. While NASA hasn’t recently approached the Pentagon about using its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, building them for manned missions could allow for cost sharing, said Steven Huybrechts, the director of space programs and policy in the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is staying on into the new administration.

. . .To boost cooperation between NASA and the Pentagon, Obama has promised to revive the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents, most actively from 1958 to 1973. The move would build ties between agencies with different cultures and agendas.

The crucial thing to remember with our new Dem Pragmatists who will be in charge, is that bedrock principles still apply. The oceans, the poles and space are to be held in common for all the people of the world. Humans are explorers at a genetic level, and I am afraid to say that too many are also warriors at that same basic level. The Department of Defense should not run the U.S. and the world. It is now too much so already. Civilians are in charge of the military. The military does warring. Diplomats do negotiating. What you spend your money on says what you truly care about.

We will be far more unsafe if space is fully militarized than if NASA has to live within its timeline and its budget as a civilian agency. And mark my words, whenever the military partners with other arms of the government, the military gets to be in charge. It is in charge of AfriCom, it now has active military stationed on U.S. soil, it runs its own intelligence operations, and many ex-military officials populate the executive branch, both out-going and in-coming.

Sunitha Williams, of East Indian descent, a "Spacey Woman" who ran the Boston marathon in space.

The military is an extremely admirable institution, smart, well-trained, courageous, self-sacrificing, well-disciplined and heroic. But those qualities have never meant that the military needs to do everything that is hard. We are dangerously out of balance. I had hoped that President-elect Obama would be the one to lead the re balancing.


  1. Militarization of Space - Questia Online Library

  2. Militarisation of Space - Wikipedia (note "too few citations" disclaimer)

  3. As further background, The Only Redhead in Taiwan asked this question at the beginning of last year, "Does the US encourage China's space militarization?"

  4. European Union space policy (from Wikio): To quote:
    The Transnational Institute, a Dutch think-tank, said: "EU-financed communication and spy satellites are slowly becoming reality and in the long term the inclusion of space-based missile defense and other more offensive uses of space are real options for an increasingly ambitious EU military space policy." Telegraph

Leopold Eyharts, French astronaut

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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Al said...

Good post and, yes, balance is key.

Carol Gee said...

Thanks for stopping by. When it comes to balance, I worry that Obama will forget about the principle of the peaceful use of space, in an effort to "find a better way" of paying for the rocketry (via DOD); or of being too mistrustful of China's motivations, making an unwarranted assumption about their shoot-down of their old satellite.