Friday, January 19, 2007

Space Gets Nasty

Can't we all just get along? A quick look around the world shows that the answer is "not anytime soon." The recent Chinese test of an antisatellite (ASAT) weapon suggests that we won't all be getting along in space either. Of course the U.S. and Russia are known to have ASAT technology, though neither has tested anything in space since the mid-nineteen eighties. The Chinese launched what was believed to be a kinetic energy weapon (i.e., a projectile that kills the satellite by flying into it at high speed) to destroy one of their own older weather satellites, resulting in a cloud of space debris estimated at 800 objects.

What a mess. And that goes for the whole "war in space" thing too. It would be nice if space could be all about peaceful international cooperation. It should be all about peaceful international cooperation - that would be best for everyone. But space is also a valuable resource and a strategic high ground, and international powers are bound to jockey for position there, as President Bush made clear last fall when he signed the new National Space Policy that declared that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power." Actions speak louder than words, so I guess it's natural for the Chinese to want to assert their position too. Not good, but natural. I hope it leads to serious discussions about ways to limit weapons in space, but I'm not too optimistic.

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