As a kid who grew up on the Jetsons and sci-fi space movies, I was disappointed when â€œthe futureâ€ arrived at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31, 1999.
The culture of my youth was saturated with visual images of space travel, aliens, robots and time-machines. So I figured by the year 2000 â€“ the start of the â€œnew millenniumâ€ â€“ Iâ€™d have my own personal R2-D2, a hovercraft and annual space shuttle tickets to visit one of Marsâ€™ vacation resorts.
But in real life 1999, I was driving a â€˜93 Dodge Shadow and living in a home that was built in the 1950s. I was still listening to cassette tapes and I hadnâ€™t yet been technologically seduced into getting rid of my VCR in exchange for a DVD player.
And it was just about three years ago when my naive disappointment in the future took a turn in the direction of dread, having begun to learn that the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about half a century ago was (and still is) on a mission to â€œcontrol spaceâ€ and from space to â€œdominateâ€ the Earth below.
In 1996, U.S. Space Command, set up by the Pentagon to â€œhelp institutionalize the use of spaceâ€ (in the words of its Web site www.spacecom.af.mil/usspace) issued a report called Vision for 2020. The report begins with talk of â€œdominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment.â€
Investigative reporter Karl Grossman, in his book â€œWeapons in Space,â€ reports on another U.S. Space Command document referred to as the â€œLong Range Plan.â€ Like the Vision for 2020 report, the Long Range Plan emphasizes the global economy.
â€œEconomic alliances, as well as the growth and influence of multi-national corporations, will blur security agreements. The gap between the â€˜haveâ€™ and â€˜have notâ€™ nations will widen â€“ creating regional unrest… .
â€œThe United States will remain the only nation able to project power globally… . Achieving space superiority during conflicts will be critical to U.S. success on the battlefield.â€
The Long Range Plan goes on to detail plans to deploy weapons in space, aiming to achieve â€œfull spectrum dominanceâ€ with things like space-based lasers. In December 2000, the Pentagon gave the greenlight to continue the â€œSpace-Based Laserâ€ project at NASAâ€™s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
If it sounds like the re-incarnation of Reaganâ€™s â€œStar Wars,â€ thatâ€™s because it is. And so-called missile defense is just the tip of the iceberg. This is about the militarization of space, despite the fact that it was U.S. diplomats who were the principal architects of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
The treaty, which has been ratified or signed by 123 nations, stipulates that â€œstate parties to the treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in space in any other manner.â€
Nevertheless, as Time magazine reported in a July 2000 article: â€œThe heart of Ronald Reaganâ€™s 1983 Star Wars program lives on, kept beating by a mix of election-year politicking, behind-the-scenes defense-industry puppeteering and a fiercely committed group of conservative think tanks.â€
How would space weapons be powered? With nuclear energy, according to a 1996 U.S. Air Force report, â€œNew World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century.â€
Did you know that NASA had plans to launch two space shuttles in 1986 â€“ one being the Challenger â€“ with plutonium-fueled space probes aboard? After reaching orbit, Grossman reports, the shuttles were to launch the probes into space.
After a year-long process of filing Freedom of Information requests, Grossman was informed by Department of Energy and NASA analysts that the possibility of an accident was â€œ â€˜very small…due to the high reliability inherent in the design of the Space Shuttle.â€™ The likelihood of a catastrophic shuttle accident was put at 1 in 100,000.â€
â€œOn January 28, 1986, I was on my way to teach my investigative reporting class at the State University of New York, when I heard over the car radio that the Challenger had blown up,â€ Grossman remembers.
â€œWhat if it was May of 1986, the date of the Challengerâ€™s next mission, when it was to have onboard the Ulysses plutonium-fueled space probe with 24.2 pounds of plutonium? There would have been many more lives lost if the explosion occurred then and plutonium was dispersed far and wide.â€
Undeterred, NASA is â€œstudying eight future space missions between 2000 and 2015 that will likely use nuclear-fueled electric generators,â€ according to a May 1998 General Accounting Office report â€“ â€œSpace Exploration: Power Sources for Deep Space Probes.â€
Tell me again: whatâ€™s the prize for having won the Cold War? An endless â€œwar on terrorismâ€ in a quest for â€œfull spectrum dominanceâ€? Welcome to the future.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at [email protected]