With fewer than a dozen missions remaining before the scheduled retirement of the space shuttle next year, NASA has turned its attention to what should become of the orbiters, as well as the millions of shuttle spare parts that will be left over when the program ends. For the first time in nearly 40 years since the last transition from Apollo to shuttle, the agency is faced with deciding what should be saved as artifacts for posterity.
Apollo was not about the Moon, or even about space. It took place in space and ultimately, on the Moon. But Apollo was a battle in the Cold War. John Kennedy did not say, “Go to the Moon and press onwards to the planets.” He challenged America to show the superiority of its economic and political system by landing a man on the Moon and returning him to Earth “before this decade is out.” The key objective was not going to the Moon – it was to beat the Soviets to the Moon. This objective was attained with profound consequences, critical to our Cold War victory to a degree still not fully appreciated.
Most space program observers acknowledge this distinction, but they have only accepted it intellectually, not emotionally.
That’s like, almost three times as much as Project Constellation is going to end up costing!
The Bush administration generally opposed international accords that might tie the nation’s hands in space. The National Space Policy issued by the Bush White House in 2006 states in part that the “United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon during the past few years carried out or planned a number of experiments that critics charged were thinly veiled tests of space-based weapons. Early last year, with then-President Bush’s approval, the Pentagon downed a wayward U.S. spy satellite using a sea-based missile interceptor.
Experts generally agreed that Obama’s statement signals a new direction in space diplomacy, but some said it does not carry much meaning in the absence of key details, beginning with a good definition of the term space weapon. Coming up with such a definition is complicated by the fact that any number of conventional military and even commercial capabilities can be used to disrupt or damage satellites.
Something that always slips into “weapons in space” discussions are things like missile defense and the shooting down of the out-of-control satellite. Would a prohibition on airborne weapons preclude anti-aircraft guns?