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2004-01-15

Bush’s New Space Program Criticized Over Costs & Nuclear Fears

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Bush announces plans to set up a permanent base on the Moon and to send astronauts to Mars. Questions arise over the cost, the military’s role and the Mars-Halliburton connection. [includes transcript]

President Bush called on Wednesday for a massive expansion of U.S. presence in space. He called for the establishment of a permanent base on the moon and for astronauts to travel to Mars and beyond. He said the ambitious project would eventually establish "a human presence across our solar system."

The Washington Post estimated the project will cost at least $170 billion over the next 16 years. The Pentagon and private companies will also collaborate with NASA on the venture. The final cost is unknown. President George H.W. Bush also proposed an ambitious expansion of the space program but the idea went nowhere in part because of the estimated $500 billion pricetag.

But now fiscal conservatives are expected to back this plan because it will expand U.S. military supremacy in space. It remains unclear what role the military will have on the Moon if a permanent base is created. The Pentagon has been discussing a military base as far back as 1959 when it proposed to put 150 rockets on the moon.

The Global Resource Action Center for the Environment warned on Wednesday that the Bush initiative "will create a new arms race to the heavens."

Among the private companies that will benefit from the space program may include Halliburton and Shell Oil. According to a 2001 article in Petroleum News, NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in identifying drilling technologies on Mars.

The Washington Post is also reporting that the roots of the space proposal was based largely in Bush’s 2004 re-election bid. The paper reports the idea came up when presidential advisors were searching "for a bold goal that would help unify the nation before Bush’s reelection race and portray him as visionary."

The president’s father proposed sending men to Mars when he was in office in 1989, but the project went nowhere after its cost was estimated at up to $500 billion.

  • James Van Allen, astrophysicist considered to be one of the founding fathers of space exploration. He is professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa. His discovery of the earth’s radiation belt made him one of the country’s most celebrated scientists. What is now known as the Van Allen radiation belt is a region of high-energy electrons and protons surrounding the earth at heights between 250 and 40,000 miles. Van Allen was involved in the first four Explorer probes, the first Pioneers, several Mariner efforts, and the orbiting geophysical observatory. In 1987 he received the National Medal of Science.
  • Marc Schlather, president of the space advocacy group ProSpace and the executive director of the Space Roundtable at the United States Senate.
  • Bruce Gagnon, director of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and author of the recent article "Bush Plays with Fire: Launching a Dangerous Space Policy."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. James Van Allen, let’s begin with you. Your reaction to the proposal by the President yesterday.

JAMES VAN ALLEN: Well, there’s two objectives, of course, specific objects are nothing new. They’ve been the standard fare of space visionaries for at least 50 years to my knowledge. In fact, his father made a similar level proposal in 1989 in his State of the Union Address. I listened very carefully to that. He called for a return to the moon and this time to stay. And a manned mission to the planet Mars. So, this is totally old stuff, really. And the question is whether the president’s proposal is realistic and what you might call competent in the sense that it lacks and enlists the support of Congress, the American people. This is an extremely expensive program and is a consumer of very high-quality human talent so that the issue is a national issue as to see whether this is worth or considered worthy or not.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dr. Allen, you have been an opponent of manned space flights. Can you talk to us about why you feel that way?

JAMES VAN ALLEN: Well, I think the word "opponent" is too strong. I’m not actually opposed to at this time, but I’m interested in it. But I’m a critic of it in terms of the yield of either scientific results or any results from the human space flight program that’s been very meager.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc Schlather is also with us, President of the space advocacy group ProSpace and Executive Director of the space round table at the United States Senate. Your response to president bush’s proposal.

MARC SCHLATHER: Well, it was interesting to see the president take a stand on this particular issue. It’s been a bit of a hot button issue for some time. NASA hasn’t what it calls a true purpose, except to perform world-class science for some time. In fact, if you take that as NASA’s true purpose to perform more class science, then one would have to agree with Dr. Van Allen, there is no reason for humans to be in space because if science is much easier done by robotic craft. But if there is a greater purpose, if there are other things we’re trying to accomplish in space, then moving forward with humans is the logical next step. Imagine if we only were allowed to explore, say, the grand canyon with robots and people were never allowed to go, obviously there’s going to be less interest and less real relevant and measurable benefit to the American people if we’re simply sending robots in there instead.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Bruce Gagnon, author of the recent article "Bush Plays with Fire: Launching a Dangerous Space Policy." Dangerous how and what does the military have to do with NASA?

BRUCE GAGNON: Well, part of the Bush plan is the nuclear rocket, what’s called Project Prometheus. A rocket with nuclear reactors that will values military applications. The pentagon for a long time has been saying in order to provide power for the space laser, they would require nuclear reactors on board. In addition, I believe that the united states is moving towards securing military bases on the moon n violation of the U.N.’s moon treaty that we refused to sign, actually, in 1979. That treaty outlaws any bases. And the reason why the United States is eager to establish a permanent presence on the moon is because helium three has been discovered there, just as recently as December 31 of last year. The "New York Times" ran another op-ed piece, one of several they have been doing, talk about the benefits of helium three, that it will make the gold rush, the oil boom look like nothing and the United States military will be used to secure the moon on behalf of the aerospace corporate interests.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what would be the uses of helium three?

BRUCE GAGNON: Helium three would replace dwindling supplies of fossil fuels on this earth to be used to power fusion reactors here on this planet. And so they also — at NASA, they say there’s gold on the asteroids and magnesium and cobalt and uranium. While we’re told this whole plan is to go out and look for the origins of life and explore the wonders of space t reality is that they’re setting up the infrastructure in order to go out and ultimately in the years to come, when the cost effectiveness of mining the sky is there, they intend to turn it all over to the private corporations after you, the taxpayers, would have paid all the years of research and development and, again, it is all being sold to us as the exploration of space.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Marc, what about this issue of helium three and the mineral exploitation of space? That doesn’t seem to jive with your greater purpose of perspective on the whole space.

MARC SCHLATHER: I’d have to disagree. I think it is exactly a greater purpose. If you take — if you believe as I do that the earth is a finite resource, we are going to — you know, we can only drill so many holes in this planet before we run out of resources and before we’re going to damage the ecology beyond all repair. So, if we’re looking for — we obviously need resources to survive on this planet. We need to look to other areas of the universe to do that. If we can get helium three from the moon, if we can look at asteroids for natural resources for nickel and platinum and other me totals that we need down here on earth. I think that is an excellent reason for humans to go out there. Where we need to spread our wings out so that we can protect this planet. For instance, one of the things that pro space has been work on is a thing called solar power from space. Essentially a large solar-powered generator that can be based at the l-1 point where gravity equalizes between the earth and the moon

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we have to wrap up. Thank you for joining us.

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