Some of us just want to explore space… and perhaps find a way to eventually get the hell away from all the nuts that want to use space as a platform to dominate everyone else!
The Space Age
From the Start, the Space Race Was an Arms Race
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
The New York Times
Published: September 25, 2007
Sputnik forced the Eisenhower administration to consider a scary new world of space arms. It did so in two ways: talking peace and preparing for war.
That duality held firm for much of the ensuing half century. Washington publicly encouraged peaceful uses of space even while spending billions to explore futuristic weaponry like death rays fired from rocket ships.
By and large, those arms remained as fictional as those in “The War of the Worlds.” But analysts say the Bush administration is now tilting the balance toward deploying real armaments, mainly antimissile interceptors that would speed into space to smash enemy warheads. But it also wants to loft jets that can shoot deadly laser beams and orbital battle stations that can hurl swarms of lethal munitions.
Space weapons are “still definitely part of the program,” said Philip E. Coyle III, a former director of weapon testing at the Pentagon. “But they don’t emphasize it because the arms-control people come out of the woodwork.”
Critics say the overall program is costly and unnecessary, and the funds better spent on countering such threats as terrorism.
Today, the biggest item in the nation’s arms budget is building antimissile weapons. For next year, the administration wants nearly $11 billion, including a down payment on a $300 million effort known as the Space Test Bed.
“We believe that space offers a lot of flexibility,” Lieut. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, told the Senate in April. The test bed, he added, will reveal “what is within the realm of the possible and what is not.”
That challenge drove the Eisenhower administration as well. Sputnik raised alarms that Soviet nuclear warheads could soon fly halfway around the globe to obliterate the United States, and in response the administration scrambled to find ways to shoot them down.
The crash program eventually cost many billions of dollars and explored such ideas such as lasers, particle beams and other would-be weapons that now seem quite bizarre.
Project Defender, as it was known, got under way in 1958 as a secret rush involving thousands of the nation’s best scientists. One bright idea was to destroy Soviet missiles early in flight with Ballistic Missile Boost Intercepts, or Bambi.
The scientists wanted to put hundreds of battle stations into orbit. Tracking intercontinental ballistic missiles by their fiery exhaust, the stations would launch rocket-propelled Bambis that would smash the rising missiles to smithereens. To increase the odds of a direct hit, the weapon would release a rotating wire net 60 feet wide.
Soon, Pentagon experts seized on a new device known as the laser that they hoped would one day fire rays of light strong enough to smash rockets and warheads.
By then, however, critics were attacking the entire antimissile effort as deeply flawed. They argued that an enemy could deploy cheap decoys among its warheads to outwit antimissile arms, and that a leaky shield would be worthless because a single nuclear blast could do so much damage.
At the same time, military scientists were finding it harder than they had expected to zero in on enemy targets. The designs grew ever more grandiose and elaborate, like an orbital battle station bearing no fewer than 3,000 nuclear arms.
“It turned out that it was a lot easier to draw this stuff than do it,” remarked John E. Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a private group in Alexandria, Va., that tracks military and space endeavors.
Eventually the Pentagon scaled back its space efforts, designing land-based interceptors meant to fly into space on a moment’s notice. And Washington began talking to Moscow about halting the burgeoning antimissile race.
The costs of the race were becoming clearer to both superpowers. Even a flawed antimissile system would require the other side to take expensive countermeasures. And even a leaky defensive shield might make a nuclear strike less unthinkable, undermining the global “balance of terror” that had thus far prevented a nuclear war.
These doubts prompted Washington and Moscow to ratify a 1972 treaty sharply limiting their antimissile forces.
But by the late 1970s, the idea of arms in space seemed to grow more alluring. In secret, atom scientists hailed the X-ray laser, which was to channel a nuclear blast into beams that shot across space to zap enemy missiles.
Inspired by such reports, President Ronald Reagan issued a call on March 23, 1983, to make enemy missiles “impotent and obsolete.” His research effort, scorned by critics as “Star Wars,” after the movie, cost taxpayers more than $100 billion.
John D. G. Rather, a laser expert who was an official at a military contractor during that era, said corporate greed undermined the effort from the start. “It became a tug of war,” he recalled, “where everybody and their brother wanted a piece of the action.”
In 1994, the dissipated effort suddenly came back to life as Republicans swept to power in the House. Their “Contract With America” explicitly called for the rapid deployment of antimissile arms.
The Clinton administration fought the initiative, but in May 2000, George W. Bush, then a candidate for president, promised to deploy defensive arms “at the earliest possible date.”
In July 2004, at a secluded Alaskan base, military contractors loaded a first interceptor rocket into a deep silo, followed over the months by 15 more in the wilds and 2 others at a sister base in California. In theory, the sites can now fire interceptors at North Korean warheads in space. The system has cost up to $40 billion so far.
The Bush administration is pushing more exotic efforts, including a fleet of Boeing 747s equipped with powerful lasers. The jets would zap enemy missiles, letting the debris fall back onto enemy territory. To date, the program has cost $4.3 billion.
Last month, a prototype jet with a bulbous nose for aiming the laser completed its low-power flight tests. Engineers are to install the big laser next year, with the project’s annual cost at $549 million. Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said the summer of 2009 should see “the first shootdown of a missile.”
The administration’s Space Test Bed is a first step toward orbital antimissile arms. The secretive plan has drawn sharp fire from antimissile critics, and Congress for now has eliminated its budget for the next fiscal year.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., in May called the plan costly, ineffective against speeding missiles, but probably good at shattering satellites.
Its real value, the group said, “is certain to be recognized, and perhaps responded to, by other nations” in a space arms race.
Critics fault the overall antimissile effort as misguided and unnecessary. Any country stupid enough to fire a missile at the United States or its forces, they say, would suffer annihilating retaliation.
The real danger, they say, is terrorism. The billions the Bush administration is spending on antimissile arms should instead go to such precautions as securing nuclear arms around the globe and protecting the nation’s borders and ports.
In March 2004, as the administration prepared to install the first interceptors in Alaska, a group of 49 retired generals and admirals wrote Mr. Bush to argue for such a redirection. In a letter whose lead signer was Adm. William J. Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan and the first President Bush, the group called a financial shift “the militarily responsible course of action.”
Article by: The New York Times