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The sky is falling?


Gonsalves

The sky is not falling. That

used to be something you said to Armageddon aficionados as an antidote to their

end-of-the-world predictions.

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

Chile.

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

debris.

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

the militarization of space check out

www.space4peace.org).

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

wrote.

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. 

 

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