The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews
Waiting for Launch ebook
 

 
ISS illustration
Cooperative efforts like the International Space Station demonstate the role civil space cooperation can play in supporting national security. (credit: NASA)

Peace


Bookmark and Share

Happy New Year: may it be one of peace and prosperity for all. I have written before that government support for new ventures in human space exploration require a geopolitical rationale serving more than just space interest. Peace and prosperity certainly are part of that rationale.

The Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations wisely separated civil and military space at the start of the space age. But that separation introduces a dichotomy that often relegates civil space to be regarded as some kind of luxury on top of other, more urgent, national needs.

The legacy of Apollo—“we came in peace for all mankind”—is very different than the typical characterization of it as a superpower confrontation of the Cold War. It was that, to be sure, but what is remarkable is that Apollo was a peaceful confrontation. It was an alternative to the old-fashioned kinds of confrontation: e.g. building defensive lines, moving troops to borders, sending the navy around the world, or occupying some disputed border locale. Another legacy of Apollo was that it is considered a global achievement, not just a national one, much as Columbus’ voyage became an achievement of Europe not of (just) Italy or of Spain.

The International Space Station stands also as a positive human space program initiative. Its legacy, too, transcends the political decision to build it. Engaging the post-Soviet military-industrial complex was the reason for its political support, but the fantastic international cooperation and participation became its singular achievement.

Space offers much more than symbolism to advance global peace. Many in the national security community and the military have opined that global climate change is the greatest current threat to world peace. Economic and scientific studies have also documented how it is the greatest threat to world prosperity. Drought in East Africa, diminishment of glaciers, loss of the rain forest and of agricultural land, flooding in highly populated coastal deltas, loss of fresh water supplies, and environmental pollution comprise just the tip of a looming iceberg. The space program is crucial to dealing with these threats, by providing observation and information for intelligent decision making and monitoring the relations of causes and effects.

US resources and capability for Earth remote sensing dropped considerably in the past decade, so much so that both the National Research Council and the Department of Defense sounded alarms. This was brought to the attention of the space community by a “Climate Change and National Security” panel at the 2008 National Space Symposium. Last year, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said, “We know that climate change will exacerbate food and water shortages, increase the spread of disease, and may contribute to migration both within and across state borders. Increased poverty, environmental degradation, even social unrest and possible weakening of governments are potential consequences.” He added a phrase I particularly liked: “It [climate change] serves, in the vocabulary of conflict analysis, as an instability accelerant.”

Climate change is, of course, an international concern, and data and information about it are critical to US international policies, including treaty negotiations and possible environmental regulations. Without Earth observing satellites and international cooperation in space, we would be flying blind into the maelstrom of climate change.

Fortunately, new support for NASA and NOAA has increased Earth science budgets and allowed them to start replenishing the Earth observation fleet. The decision to re-fly the Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft was very positive in that regard. Still, that was last year’s victory, and, as the November elections in the US showed, victory can be short-lived. Some have already labeled Earth science as a budget-cutting target.

Perhaps we should actually weaken barriers between national security and space exploration, not by subsuming NASA within the military or merging military and space budgets, but by recognizing and utilizing the value of NASA’s program in national security.

The International Space Station and the intricate cooperation among the US, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada carries on the tradition of world peace through international cooperation. Cooperation in human space flight is synergistic with cooperation in science, cooperation in Earth observing, and cooperation in solar weather monitoring and planetary defense. In a congressional event held by the Planetary Society two years ago, Charlie Kennel, now head of the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board, connected human space flight and Earth observations by citing how necessary international cooperation in the latter is enhanced by the political cooperation in the former.

The Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations wisely separated civil and military space at the start of the space age. But that separation introduces a dichotomy that often relegates civil space to be regarded as some kind of luxury on top of other, more urgent, national needs. There seems even to be a disconnect between “National Space Policy,” as defined by Presidential directive, and those more popular space activities that command public attention, like human space exploration, robotic missions to other worlds, and understanding of our universe. Yet civil space initiatives like the Vision for Space Exploration or the current redirection of human space flight are led by staff in the National Security Council. Much of the support for space programs rests on geopolitical and international considerations.

Promoting international cooperation has been part of NASA’s charter since its formation. Such cooperation has advanced national security interests (for example, by engaging Russia and other countries) and has enabled more to be achieved than would otherwise be possible (as with Apollo-Soyuz, Shuttle-Mir, the International Space Station, Cassini/Huygens, James Webb Space Telescope, and other projects). Utilizing the Russian Soyuz for flying American crew to the ISS helps stabilize and enhance national security rather than, as some would say, reducing it. It’s my view that these international projects also enhance and advance peace and prosperity—and hence they are part of my New Year’s wish.

Perhaps we should actually weaken barriers between national security and space exploration, not by subsuming NASA within the military or merging military and space budgets, but by recognizing and utilizing the value of NASA’s program in national security. Human space flight has many virtues in common with great military roles in past exploration on Earth. NASA’s budget isn’t a luxury—it is part of global security and human advancement. This should be expressed in the coming year’s Congressional debate about the future of NASA. Human space flight into the solar system and all that goes with it (the “other things” cited by President Kennedy in 1961) is in the interest of our national security.


Home

Subscribe

Enter your email address below to be notified when new articles are published:


ISPCS 2014