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“Keep Space For Peace”?

This post made me curious as to what sorts of space activities Global Network might actually favor, seeing as how they seem to be against the military use of space, the commercialization of space, the use of space technology developed for military use in non-military applications, and the use of nuclear power systems that allow for meaningful civil exploration missions beyond the orbit of Mars or human settlement of space.

So, I wrote to Bruce Gagnon, and asked him for his criteria for judging what space activities are “peaceful” or not. He forwarded me the following from Global Network:

OBJECTIVES & DEMANDS FOR SPACE

  • Apply space technology to social and environmental needs here on Earth
  • Explore alternative technology paths for space power and propulsion
  • Solve problems on planet Earth instead of creating new imbalances and conflicts in space
  • Prevent confrontation, enhance international cooperation in space
  • Ban space weapons and space military installations by national and international laws
  • Avoid oversized, costly and risky space projects
  • Ban the use of nuclear power in space
  • Encourage and foster global democratic debate about space exploration and colonization
  • Strengthen existing international space laws that call for collective use of celestial bodies

While illuminating, it is more of a political platform than a set of criteria for evaluating whether a space activity is acceptably “peaceful”…too nebulous to be much of a guide to action (not, I should note, that I would myself have used such criteria as a guide to action, had they been provided). But, since I’m in the mood, let’s look at these planks one at a time:

Apply space technology to social and environmental needs here on Earth
On the surface, this sounds like NASA PR boilerplate — a mission-statement version of the time-honored/threadbare assertion that space exploration provides goodies here on Earth (maybe even in your Congressional district!), combined with faddish pandering to constituents of a greener hue. And there is nothing really wrong with seeing that side of the matter: if the government is going to spend our tax dollars to develop these gee-whiz Buck Rogers technologies, the least it could do is make them available to address other issues where it makes sense to do so. Satellite telecommunications technology, for instance, can be useful in providing communications links to distant or underserved communities. On the environmental side, imaging and other sensor technology developed for planetary exploration can be used to gather data on the status and natural resources of our own planet, and technologies developed by NASA and DoD for safely handling hydrogen rocket fuel would surely prove useful in the much-talked-about “hydrogen economy” should it ever materialize.

Unfortunately, not being NASA PR, that is probably not what the actual authors have in mind. Because corporations stand to make a profit from their exploitation, spinoff products and technology transfers to industry would doubtless be an insufficiently “social” application of space technology developed using society’s money, regardless of their direct and indirect social benefits (job creation, widespread wealth creation, positive outlook on the future, etc.). And while environmental data from space might be welcomed, at least if it appears to confirm a priori conclusions about human damage to the environment, data that shows a healthy planet or (even worse) pinpoints commercially useful natural resources would certainly not be regarded as a proper application of space technology to environmental needs. Serving social needs means no one may make a profit, and serving environmental needs means providing a veneer of scientific respectability to anti-rational nature worship.

Explore alternative technology paths for space power and propulsion
If I didn’t know who had written this, I would be inclined to agree with this sentiment. I personally would applaud NASA, DoD, private industry, and/or some combination of the three working to develop an operational NTR, for instance, or safe, high-output, high-reliability nuclear power systems.

Obviously, that reading would be inconsistent with the rest of Global Network’s platform, so they must have something else in mind. Since they are hostile to Prometheus-style nuclear electric propulsion, and would surely oppose any of the various exotic forms of propulsion suggested over the years (if you oppose all things nuclear, you could hardly be expected to embrace antimatter propulsion, for example), that leaves chemical, solar/magnetic sails, and solar electric. Each of these works, but these propulsion methods and low-density solar power sources place practical limitations on our ability to explore and develop space (which is perhaps the point).

Solve problems on planet Earth instead of creating new imbalances and conflicts in space
I’m not clear on what GNAWNPS intends by “Solve problems on planet Earth”, unless this is a way of stating the need to obtain data useful in butressing environmental fearmongering, which can be used to railroad radical changes in the global economic and political structure and thereby usher in some sort of utopia.

As for imbalances and conflicts, this is a circumlocuitous way of saying the U.S. should not have the preeminent position it has in space, let alone use it for anything (ostensibly because such an advantage is somehow “unfair”, but in reality because that advantage is held by the U.S.). Conflicts of some sort are inevitable as we migrate into space, given human nature — space will only be a playground of peace, free of conflict, if humans are barred from it entirely. (Which, again, is perhaps the point.)

Prevent confrontation, enhance international cooperation in space
Would that be international cooperation on the European Union model? Or on the “Coalition of the Willing” model?

A “Coalition of the Willing” model may indeed have some merit, in that it would spread the effort toward the agreed-upon goal among the participants, according to individual interest and capabilities, and pursue that goal under clearly-defined leadership. Universal consensus and broad international participation as ends in themselves would not be required, eliminating the need for the often counterproductive horsetrading and politicking that has attended the development and operation of the ISS.

Given the tie to preventing confrontation here, however, I would have to read it as the EU model. The overriding goal in the creation of the EU’s precursor, the EEC, was the prevention of another major European conflict by binding together the national economies of Western Europe. Given that the notion of a war between Germany, France, Italy, and the UK (in whatever permutation you care to imagine) nowadays reads like the setup for a joke, it would seem that that goal has been achieved…at a price. Yes, conflict of the sort that bloodied Europe periodically over the century ending in 1945 has been ended, but the price for this joining of hands in friendship has been to don the shackles of dirigiste governance and the welfare-socialist economic stagnation.

Of course, there is an even worse third alternative: the UN model, in which the voices of all states, spacefaring or not, are of equal importance, no action can be taken in space without unanimous international consent, and any benefits derived from any such internationally-blessed activities are redistributed via a kleptocratic bureaucracy to equally-kleptocratic failed states. (And looking ahead to the last plank in the platform, I’m not sure but that that’s what they do mean…)

Ban space weapons and space military installations by national and international laws
Don’t we already have something like that?

Yes, of course, that’s not good enough, since it only bans “nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction” and not “weapons-enhancing” hardware like the GPS constellation, orbital early-warning and reconnaissance systems, and military weather and communications satellites. And it doesn’t categorically ban “military installations”, allowing those used for scientific research and the like — a loophole which will inevitably lead to international armed conflicts and gratuitous destruction like we have seen over the past fifty years in Antarctica if not dealt with soon.

Avoid oversized, costly and risky space projects
Ah, now here’s something we can agree on, at least insofar as taxpayer money is concerned. But if a private citizen decides to blow millions of dollars of his own money on an overhyped vanity project that might just yield results, why should it be anyone else’s concern as long as no one else is harmed thereby?

Ban the use of nuclear power in space
The Sun can be regarded as a fusion reactor. How do we go about shutting it down? After all, we wouldn’t want to contaminate space with radiation…

Encourage and foster global democratic debate about space exploration and colonization
Read: Use endless unproductive gabfests as a means to indefinitely stall constructive action while an unattainable “consensus” is pursued.

Strengthen existing international space laws that call for collective use of celestial bodies
In other words, reinforce the ill-conceived ban on private property rights throughout the infinite universe, and redistribute any benefits derived anywhere in the universe among the kleptocrats of Earth…thereby guaranteeing that little if any meaningful development of space (let alone human migration into space) will occur.

Eh. Color me unimpressed.

8 comments to “Keep Space For Peace”?

  • Summary: go nowhere, do nothing, stay at home and stagnate.

    This works well for insular socities, which the West is not. Bruce wants us to be .. Japan? Maybe China before the West decided trade there would be a groovy thing.

    I don’t think he’d like the tertiary effects. Dissent isn’t .. can’t be .. allowed in a closed society. The first people we’d have to muzzle are folks like .. Bruce. Up against the wall. Oops.

    “Avoid oversized, costly and risky space projects”

    Who decides what is oversized, costly and risky?

    I wonder if he’d like this point

    “Encourage and foster global democratic debate about space exploration and colonization”

    if the masses decided that living in dank caves and forsaking our high energy civilization is really all that swell. What if what we really want is Buck Rogers and a Galactic Patrol? Colonies on Mars, expeditions to the Oort cloud?

    What if the masses vote for a really honking big, expensive and (for the crew) risky ramjet to go cruising off to Bernard’s Star? That would be ‘okay’ then since we did it all nice and democratic, right?

  • Dwayne A. Day

    I think you are over-interpreting this list. It is actually a pretty reasonable and balanced list from a liberal standpoint. Compared to many of Bruce Gagnon’s statements about space, it is fairly level-headed. However, your response to it is not. You seem to be responding to what you perceive to be their views, rather than what is actually stated in the list that you provided.

    The first thing on the list essentially states that space should be used for environmental and weather monitoring. In other words, for the things that have the most direct impact on ordinary peoples’ lives. Nothing crazy about that. You can disagree, but that does not make their priorities crazy or illegitimate.

    The rest of the things on the list are also not unreasonable, and certainly not as goofy as you make them out to be. For instance, they oppose nuclear power in space. But your response that the Sun is a nuclear reactor is disingenuous is bizarre. The list contains no unreasonable claims about nuclear power, so why are you providing an unreasonable response? Furthermore, there is no danger of the sun falling on our heads or into the coastal waters of Florida. The rhetoric against space nuclear power and propulsion may be overhyped, but that does not mean that the concern itself is illegitimate. And your response is far more hyperbolic than the actual statement that you are responding to.

    I would agree that the kinds of people who push this agenda tend to have a poor grasp of the facts, and I disagree with them both ideologically and with their priorities. But you have not effectively refuted this list. You have refuted an imaginary list that you made up in your head.

  • Leland

    If we stick with the first item on the list, then we might as well stop all manned spaceflight today. If all we plan to do is monitor the environment/weather, than we have that done with unmanned satellites today. I guess you can go about being happy with status quo. Nothing like deciding to be stagnant.

    No unreasonable claims to Nuclear Power, Mr. Day. Did you miss this: “Ban the use of Nuclear Power in space.” They are not just talking the Prometheus project; Bruce Gagnon was against the plutonium power used on Cassini.(http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&c2coff=1&q=bruce+gagnon+cassini)
    I have problems with Prometheus, but proven technology like encapsulated plutonium RTGs? Sure, the list doesn’t call out RTGs, but any investigation of Bruce Gagnon leads one to understand that “Ban Nuclear Power” includes them.
    (http://www.flybynews.com/archives/global/doe.htm)

    I think what Mr. James is attempting to do (and he did it well) is to prevent people from being mislead by what appears to be marginal issues. Bruce Gagnon is far more radical than this list, as the first commenter pointed out. However, even with the list, I find topics such as “Solve Problems on Planet Earth instead of creating new imbalances and conflicts in space” to be pretty much a carte blanche statement against all space programs (particularly US). That is, unless you can tell me what is meant by imbalances (which the list doesn’t provide) and what conflicts exists by one country launching a satellite.

    To be fair to Mr. Gagnon, the US gets a very flustered with North Korea simply launching anything, while scoffing at North Korea for complaining about the US launching stuff. Those are imbalances and conflicts, but we have to read beyond Mr. Gagnon’s list to know them or especially to understand their significance.

  • “You seem to be responding to what you perceive to be their views, rather than what is actually stated in the list that you provided.”

    I interpreted this ‘platform’ based on what I have seen of the stated views of Bruce Gagnon and Global Network. Chief among those views:

    – anything touched by the military is corrupted, and space technology with a military heritage is by extension questionable at best;

    – activities involving “corporations” (the leftist/socialist’s codeword for capitalism and everything they loathe about it) is suspect, especially so if the corporation in question is part of the dreaded Military Industrial Complex(tm);

    – making a profit through space activities is unacceptable, especially if those space activities include resource extraction…unless, perhaps, that profit is “shared”, per the “common heritage” BS to which the last platform point alludes;

    – anything that involves nuclear power or nuclear material in any way, shape, or form is unacceptable…and this is often exaggerated (e.g.: fretting about the health and environmental hazard from the Americium in the Orbiter’s on-board smoke detectors after the Columbia accident), and several times has taken the absurd form of concern over our polluting the solar system with radiation and radioactive materials.

    You realize the bit about the sun being a big scary fusion reactor was a humorous poke at them on this latter point, right?

    “You can disagree, but that does not make their priorities crazy or illegitimate.”

    I believe on that specific point I was calling their priorities disingenuous.

    “The rest of the things on the list are also not unreasonable, and certainly not as goofy as you make them out to be.”

    Again, I think these things *are* unreasonable when their source is factored in. The point in a platform such as this is to hide the real intentions behind seemingly-sensible or apple-pie language to broaden the appeal of the organization’s agenda…but it doesn’t take much reading of Mr. Gagnon’s blog or editorials or the GNAWNPS website to understand what they actually have in mind by these planks.

    “I would agree that the kinds of people who push this agenda tend to have a poor grasp of the facts, and I disagree with them both ideologically and with their priorities. But you have not effectively refuted this list. You have refuted an imaginary list that you made up in your head.”

    No, I interpreted what they really meant by the planks in their platform based on what I know of the stated views of the organization and the member of that organization who provided me with the information. If you choose to be optimistic and read these platform points in isolation from their other published views, that’s up to you, but that strikes me as a bit pollyannaish.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    Once again, you posted a list and then did not reply to that list, but what you interpreted to be the hidden meaning behind that list. Disingenuous and misleading.

    If you want to refute them, particularly Gagnon, then you have to quote exactly what you are refuting.

    Taken in isolation, that list is not outrageous. In fact, it would be relatively easy to obtain widespread support for such a list of principles. After all, I am sure that a lot of people would agree that the primary purpose of a space program should be directly benefitting human needs on planet Earth.

    Their problem has always been that they have people like Gagnon representing them, and he clearly has a poor grasp of the issues. But the list of objectives is a defensible list, poorly defended.

  • “Once again, you posted a list and then did not reply to that list, but what you interpreted to be the hidden meaning behind that list. Disingenuous and misleading.”

    You did read my follow-up comment in which I listed the basis for my interpretation, right?

    “If you want to refute them, particularly Gagnon, then you have to quote exactly what you are refuting.”

    I’m considering doing that in a new post — but because you’ve piqued my intellectual interest in doing so, not because I “have” to do it.

    Please explain why exact quotes are “particularly” required for refuting Mr. Gagnon. That seems an odd requirement for handling the arguments of a man who isn’t known for intellectual rigor.

    “Taken in isolation, that list is not outrageous.”

    And therein lies the point which you seem determined not to acknowledge, Mr. Day: *taken in the context of Gagnon’s and GNAWNPS’ expressed views*, these seemingly agreeable demands take on a different character.

    “After all, I am sure that a lot of people would agree that the primary purpose of a space program should be directly benefitting human needs on planet Earth.”

    So what? I would not agree, and I would argue that they were not only wrong but dangerously so, insofar as human migration into space is concerned, because “human needs on planet Earth” is meaninglessly vague and thus subject to manipulation by those who would oppose human activities in space. That is why I see these demands (particularly the first and third) as disingenuous — they sound all warm and fuzzy in isolation, but have quite a different meaning from what that “lot of people” might think they are agreeing with when viewed in context.

    “But the list of objectives is a defensible list, poorly defended.”

    If you see these demands as defensible, and wish to mount a defense of them, I won’t stop you. I’ll even let you post it here, if you like. But I look at the demands in the context of who is making them, and in that context (which I have tried to provide above) I do not see them as defensible, and so offer my criticism.

  • >Strengthen existing international space laws that call for collective use of celestial bodies – G.N.
    —-
    >it would be relatively easy to obtain widespread support for such a list of principles. -D.A.D.

    Are there polling numbers on space socialism?

  • Aaron_J

    Gonna respond, Dwayne, or have you run out of deliberately obtuse complaints?

    And why so irritated — as if your ox was gored? Why else defend Bruce and his loonies unless you see your own views reflected in their “demands”?

    Having amused myself with Bruce’s blog in the past, I’d have to say the original post hardly “over-interpreted” his nutty agenda.