Saturday, June 16, 2007

Peaceful use of space?

By Carol Gee

STS - 117 Atlantis is on a mission. All of the NASA efforts with which we are acquainted, we assume to be peaceful. Most missions in space have always been peaceful, except for our misadventures with the so-called "star wars" looniness. We hope to finish the International Space Station by 2010. Because it is in an incredibly complex and underfunded space program, the current STS-117 mission has not been without problems. That is the hallmark of working with aging equipment, but there was a bit of good news from orbit yesterday, reported in this BBC News headline: "Repairs ease space mission woes." Quoting from the article,

Problems dogging a mission to the International Space Station have been eased following a space walk and a computer reboot.

. . . Russian cosmonauts have now successfully rebooted vital ISS computer systems that had crashed.

. . . Despite the delays, managers are confident they will be able to complete the ISS before the shuttles' 2010 retirement date.

Nasa plans to fly 15 more missions to the station to deliver large components, spare parts and other supplies. In addition, one final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope is planned for September 2008.

Transmission of mission information happens in a wide variety of standard ways - via regular news, C-SPAN, the NASA TV channel,, etc. This story is about the most unusual transmission yet detected. It is from a recent International Herald Tribune piece headlined, "Baby monitor in Illinois picks up live video from NASA mission." To quote,

A mother of two in this suburb of Chicago does not have to turn on the news for an update on NASA's space mission. She just flips on her baby monitor.

. . . "It's not coming straight from the shuttle," NASA spokeswoman Brandi Dean said. "People here think this is very interesting and you don't hear of it often — if at all."

. . . Meilinger silenced disbelieving co-workers by bringing in a video of the monitor to show her class on Tuesday, her students' last day of school. At home, 3-month-old Jack and 2-year-old Rachel do not quite understand what their parents are watching. "I've been addicted to it and keep waiting to see what's next," Meilinger said.

Today's post explores whether the uses of space remain peaceful. So far, so good. Like this mom, I am a "space junkie," addicted to all the news I can find about space. I, too, keep waiting to see what's next, so that I can make sense of it all. An old blogger friend, Bucky, who writes a Brown Bag Blog, once dubbed me the "queen of synthesis." South by Southwest is linked in his "sandwich" list. The concluding two news items (one about Russia and one about the U.S.) are the bologna in the Peaceful Space sandwich.

UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Space - Things may not always be what they seem. The next news item brings into question whether the Russian space program is entirely peaceful. It is an ironic story from the BBC News headlined, "Free 'spy', Russia tells Austria." The conclusion about the truth of it is up to you. To quote,

Moscow has demanded the release of a Russian space agency official who was arrested in Salzburg, Austria, this week on suspicion of spying.

The Russian was suspected of receiving sensitive information from an Austrian military officer, who was also arrested, Austrian officials said. Russia said he had diplomatic immunity because he was attending a UN meeting in Vienna at the time of his arrest.

. . . The man was a member of the Russian delegation to the 50th session of the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Russia's space agency said.

Missiles are just like rockets - propelled by stuff that burns very hot and shoots very high. The propellant can fire off a population destroying bomb, a space shuttle, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, or the world's Hubble telescope, into space. Somehow the following does not seem to qualify as a peaceful use of space. In this I agree with the Russians. The recent story is in the BBC News, and unhappily headlines, "US confirms missile shield plans." To quote,

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed the US will go ahead with plans to install parts of a missile defence shield in eastern Europe. He said Washington viewed a Russian offer to use a base in Azerbaijan as an additional capability not a substitute. The US says the shield is necessary to protect against any missile attacks from "rogue states". Russia recently threatened to target missiles against Europe if the US went ahead with the shield.

. . . Nato has now ordered plans to be drawn up for a possible short-range missile defence system for Europe's southern flank. Russia has said the American plan is a threat to its own security and a challenge to its influence in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia might aim its own missiles at Europe, but then offered the use of a former Soviet base in Azerbaijan for the US system instead of Poland and the Czech Republic.

There should be some universal law that nations cannot pollute space with war and violence, any more than we can pollute it with CO-2, or with debris. To do so is absolutely spiritually unseemly, in the same way as nukes.

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