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Space Race Part II

Recent headlines about the destruction of a Chinese weather satellite by one of their own missiles had US officials quoted in wide-eyed surprise claiming the act threatened US-China relations and escalated the weaponization of space.
Of course, the hundreds of billions of dollars the US has spent on ballistic missile defense and research into smaller “useable” nuclear weapons with its own kill vehicles positioned on land and sea aimed at sites across the world speaks volumes about the US’ position on the weaponization of our planet.
It is also doubtful that the Chinese action was a surprise to intelligence professionals. Reports six months ago alleged the Chinese “illuminated” a US satellite using a laser. With this short burst of directed energy, it is believed China wanted to not only demonstrate its power, however briefly, but also gauge US reaction to it. This latest incident has brought China-US relations into a new level of experimentation and started Space Race II, the Sequel.
As far as space is concerned, the field has evened in recent years, and the US no longer has the edge, or prestige, that it used to. China has conducted manned missions into space, becoming the third country to do so, behind Russia and the US.
Changes in export laws fostered the creation of a network of businesses outside of US that has quietly developed to supply and build space assets for peaceful as well as military applications with no American involvement. Deals have been made between China, Russia, Europe, and Middle Eastern unilaterally. Middle Eastern, African, and South American countries are having satellites built in Europe and launched by Russia.
Space shuttle disasters and the subsequent reneging on International Space Station agreements have put world partners in a position where they just don’t trust American commitments. Russia and Europe are partnering on a Mars mission, without US participation.
The latest move by China will only exacerbate the stubbornness of the US to stay the course and isolate itself further. We can expect to see the rhetoric become frothier. US solicitations for partnerships on both military and civilian projects with even longterm partners will most likely be politely turned down. And what about Poland? Eastern block countries will likely join the European Union for any space related activity.
Ironically, this act by China comes during a milestone anniversary, for it was October 4, 1957 that the Russians launched the first artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth. Sputnik, a word meaning “traveling companion”, was a 184 pound ball that continuously transmitted a signal alternating in 20 and 40 MHz that radio enthusiasts around the world were able to pick up with inexpensive commercial equipment, enabling amateurs to track the satellite globally as it sailed above in low Earth orbit. The constant beeping irritated US officials who not only feigned surprise, but were also led to publicly state that it wasn’t much of a big deal.
Of course, behind the scenes, American intelligence had many reports on Russian progress in rocketry. The US had a rocket program decades old, and plans for orbiting their own satellite. But the successful launch of Sputnik changed the dynamic. Officials knew they had to move quickly to gain supremacy in space and government support moved with it. The Space Race had begun. Suffering many losses in dollars and prestige, American efforts were finally rewarded and it was eventually won by the US with the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon.
Sputnik disregarded the lines that separate nations and lorded over the planet wholly. The basketball-sized orb named Sputnik revealed to people around the world that space travel, till then only a dream, was indeed possible. “Sputnik and the moon shots brought about, in effect, the institution of a new kind of global theater, in which all men become actors and there are few spectators. The population of the world is both the cast and content of this new theater. The repertory of the theater consists of a perpetual happening, which can include the retrieval or replay of any previous happening that men choose to experience.” Marshall McLuhan Culture is Our Business pg 145 It was Marshall McLuhan who noted that man-made satellites, encircling the Earth, made Nature into an art piece. The world became a global village.
The destruction of this weather satellite by China is to be abhorred for many reasons, not the least of which is the huge cloud of debris now in orbit, adding to the flotsam that endangers spacecraft and astronauts alike. Estimates are that only 10% of all space junk is tracked, and even the tiniest pieces can cause catastrophic damage. Hitting a satellite could have meant destruction, hitting an astronaut could have meant death.
All wars are fought with the latest technology available and Sputnik started the third world war where information is the weapon. Space Race II is this very moment starting in a world very different from 50 years ago. The US is no longer the world leader it was. No longer do we have the resources, money, or trust of the people, to build a new infrastructure of war and weapons in space in the name of a “defense” strategy. No doubt attempts will continue, but it may be a last gasp of American hegemony.
The Doomsday Clock was recently moved to five minutes till midnight indicating our increased vulnerability to nuclear weapons. On this 50th anniversary of Sputnik, our challenge today is to check the drive for control of Earth and space and keep from destroying the very the very planet we need for our survival as a species. Can world governments find a way to cooperate and move our planet into the 21rst century with a minimum of tragedy?

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