During the Reagan years, as governmental space exploration and private industry merged in new ways, there were increasing uses of NASA for military and intelligence activities. In the mid-1980s we learned that at least one-third of the space shuttle missions had classified top secret military or intelligence components – many of which ran through the secret National Reconnaissance Office. Government historian, and former policy staff member at CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office and in the office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Cassutt, observed that the Space Shuttle was so linked to intelligence missions that the National Reconnaissance Office “requirements drove the shuttle design”. During the 1980s and 90s, classified payloads became a regular feature of space shuttle missions.
Today, astronauts and NASA are not needed to advance the militarization of space to the next frontier: we have the Pentagon’s secret space drone (known as the X-37B) that has circled the earth with minimal public interest, undertaking secret missions. Well before Trump did his publicity stunt announcing his comic book ‘Space Force’, the Department of Defense built its own space program – benefitting directly from the advances developed by NASA, with a separate space budget comparable to NASA’s; the militarized explorations of space today dwarf civilian’s.
Under Obama, in 2016 Defense Secretary Ash Carter pushed for significant increases in the Pentagon’s space budget, bluntly argued that in the past, “space was seen as a sanctuary. New and emerging threats make clear that that’s not the case anymore and we must be prepared for the possibility of a conflict that extends in space”. Carter also noted that China and Russia “have advanced directed-energy capabilities that could be used to track or blind satellites, disrupting key operations, and both have demonstrated the ability to perform complex maneuvers in space”. Trump’s move to establish a Space Force continues is little more than a continuation of the Obama administration’s effort to militarize space.
While it is simple to separate (or launder) budgetary lines funding civilian space missions designed to orbit the earth or walk on the moon – there is no simple meaningful way to separate the scientific research needed to launch the Apollo astronauts to the moon, from the science needed to successfully build Intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry deadly nuclear payloads to our Soviet enemies. This is the nature of dual use science; and while the particulars of our culture of science train us to categorically see these as separate enterprises, these developments feed knowledge into a conjoined body of knowledge. Military spy satellites, star wars technology, unknown military tests in space, space weaponry, many innovations now in the public domain – such as early GPS technology – was classified and limited to military applications. This is part of the dual use nature of militarized science in a capitalist market place.
What Trump’s formation of an identified Space Force does is to make naked the truth that the American space project, within and outside of NASA, has always been part of a military project wrapped in the public gauze of utopian space travel fantasies. These fantasies helped channel public understanding of space exploration and its inherent links to the militarization of space; and even while we gained incredible, important, scientific knowledge and stunning photos from Hubble and other projects, these were also shinny objects that kept our attention from core military aspects of America’s space project.
Like most open secrets, little was hidden about this, but the cultural categories we constructed kept the depth of this obvious truth at bay as we entertained visions of utopian space exploration, of a world where developed nations would share satellite data with poor countries as acts of mutual aid, even while NASA’s space race with the Soviet Union was a form of warfare. The Mercury and Apollo programs were civilian programs–with some military personnel and project links, the satellite programs, and other NASA linked projects had significant military links. These military features were frequently highlighted in congressional funding requests, while the public was sold Buck Rogers fantasies.
In very concrete terms Trump’s step towards a Space Force simply connects the dots laid in place by the politer and more articulate administrations came before him as he moves us into a world where space more openly becomes a warfare platform. But we should expect a culture so deeply embedded in a political economy of warfare and militarization to try and do no less than to extend its militarized vision beyond our atmosphere.
This article has been excerpted from:‘Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was’. Courtesy: Counterpunch.org