The sky is not falling. That
used to be something you said to Armageddon aficionados as an antidote to their
It appears that cliché is in
need of some revision. The Russian MIR space station is slated to crash land on
earth today. On its decent, experts say most of the 135-ton space station will
burn up. But they expect about 40 tons, or about 1,500 fragments, to survive
re-entry and hopefully land somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and
Some of the debris will be
the size of a small car. CNN reported two weeks ago that the MIR crash landing
is causing international anxiety. Australia, Japan and US officials are
reportedly keeping a close eye on the soon-to-be falling spacecraft, which
happens to be the heaviest object orbiting the planet, second only to the moon.
According to the German
newspaper Gild, an interior (German) ministry report says that errant debris
could shower Germany and neighboring countries in southwestern Europe. Experts
say that a minor fluctuation in atmospheric conditions or a slight human
miscalculation of the debris trail could drastically alter the course of the
It’s a scary thought
considering that this stuff will be descending on earth at a speed of almost a
mile per second! But don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll give you ample warning if
some "errant debris" accidently starts heading toward your house. And then maybe
you could do what that Australian guy on the Yahoo commercial does – order a
bunch of pillows on the internet and use them to cushion the collision.
There are developments in
space exploration more horrifying than space debris slamming into a population
center. Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the CUNY Graduate
Center, and SUNY professor of journalism Karl Grossman, say the MIR ren-entry
should cause global concern about launching nuclear power into space.
"This is a grim reminder that
we are playing Russian roulette with the cities of the Earth. Back in 1978 the
Russian Cosmos 954 nuclear-powered satellite also plunged to Earth, releasing
100 pounds of highly enriched uranium," Kaku says.
"If Cosmos 954 had sprayed
debris over populated land, it would have created a catastrophe of nightmarish
proportions. Fortunately, it landed in the tundra of northwest Canada," he says.
Grossman adds, "Isaac Newton
remains correct: what goes up, usually comes down. We can’t continue to
willy-nilly send space nuclear devices up, and then cross our fingers and hope
they don’t land on a population center." Since the beginning of the space age,
the US and Russia have launched 68 known nuclear devices. To date nine have
fallen back to Earth. There are 34 of these nuclear reactor cores still orbiting
our planet and are expected to eventually fall back to Earth, burning up on
re-entry, Grossman and Kaku point out.
Grossman and Kaku will be
featured speakers this weekend at the Global Network’s National Space Organizing
Conference in Huntsville, Alabama – home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,
where they are now developing nuclear space rockets. (For more information on
NASA and the Department of
Energy right now are expanding plutonium production for space nuclear power.
That’s what the talk of a space-based laser is about and the development of
Anti-Satellite (ASAT) technology, which has been developing alongside the
so-called Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system.
Former trident nuclear
missile designer and weapons systems researcher Robert Aldridge warns: "BMD and
ASAT programs, ostensibly separated and autonomous, have supplemented and
reinforced each other for decades." This truth is masked by "the defensive
connotations under which they are presented to the public….The announced
intentions do not reflect the capability the United States is seeking – a
capability revealed by a close study of how military development programs fit
together to achieve it. That is an aggressive first-strike capability which is
neither defensive nor deterrent," Aldridge says.
Jack Ruina, professor
emeritus of electrical engineering at MIT and former president of the Institute
for Defense Analyses, explained recently in the Washington Post that the
national missile defense currently under development "makes little sense,
technically, economically or politically."
"I can understand that the
president would want to put a high priority on protecting the nation’s populace
from nuclear attack, but Bush seems oblivious to NMD’s many problems," Ruina
Is it more likely that Bush
is in fact "oblivious" or that he knows what Aldridge is getting at? "BMD (or
NMD) programs could well be a front for developing an ASAT capability; at the
very least, a parallel effort," Aldridge says.
"In order to neutralize – and
selectively deny access to – space, DOD (Department of Defense) must develop the
means to control and destroy space assets, while selectively reconstituting its
own capability through multiple sources," states the Pentagon’s Strategic
Studies Group IV paper.
NASA says nuclear power is
the most promising way for humans to travel to Mars one day. But according to a
National Research Council report called "Protecting the Space Shuttle from
Meteoriods and Orbital Debris," there are 110,000 small pieces of space junk
orbiting earth at 17,000 mph.
Imagine not being able to explore the heavens because space junk traps us on
earth. Imagine nuclear weapons in space. Isn’t a collision of some sort bound to
happen? Depending on what, how and where the collision occurs, the consequences
could be as menacing as Darth Vader’s empire. May the Force be with you.