Fly Me to the Moon
Fly Me to the Moon
I was one of those space kids of the 1950s. An only child, bored with my life, I spent an inordinate amount of time off in space in every sense. I still wonder where those little platforms with steering mechanisms powered by jetpacks are -- the ones that pop magazines of the era swore would take us individually zipping amongst the spired towers of our cities, creating traffic jams 30 stories up. Nothing better proves to me how pathetic our ability to predict the future is than the fact that at 59 I still find myself subway, bus, or car-bound in the big city.
Much of my night-time life back then was spent under the covers, at hours when I was supposed to be asleep, reading H. G. Wells' First Men in the Moon or The War of the Worlds by flashlight -- talk about terror wars, don't get me started on how terrified I was -- or checking out Isaac Asimov's fabulous Foundation space operas in which empires in the stars rose and fell like clockwork. In the dark at least, Asimov prepared me well enough for the present Bush administration dreams of imperial adventure in space (though they do look so shabby by comparison).
Unfortunately, when we finally reached the moon in 1969, the Vietnam War was growing ever hotter, the first pictures back looked like they were taken from inside a washing machine, and the guys bouncing around up there were about as heavily scripted for banality as the automatons in Kubrick's already released 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I put my space dreams away and focused on what was happening back on hidebound old planet Earth. But sometime in the 1970s, I found myself at the Exploratorium,
All of this is to say that some boyish part of me is still primed for the idea of space exploration. But space exploitation? Or worse, the further exploitation of our own planet via space -- well, that's another story, isn't it?
The President, of course, was enthused. Like his father -- some said in "tribute" to his father, who offered a similar plan during his presidency, but in this Oedipus Wrecks of an administration that seems doubtful -- he called on us to establish a "base" on the moon by 2020 and then head for Mars. The good news is that there's even a potential "race" into space to go with his plan. Will the Chinese, our supposed future imperial competitors, get someone to the moon first? Of course, George only plans to scrape together a billion dollars for the project over numerous years by shutting down other NASA projects, starting evidently with repairs for the Hubbell telescope, and then he naturally expects someone else to pay the gargantuan bill for this "vision" somewhere off in 2010 or after, while he's sipping non-alcoholic Mai Tais in Crawford, TX. Still, something about that payment plan has a distinctly familiar ring to it. Where have I heard the idea before that we should mortgage the future to exploit the present?
So here was the President's "vision thing" on space exploration (a vision that admittedly seemed to go over nationally with all the rocket thrust of a lead bagel), and it turns out to be subject to a little known natural law --I'd call it Cheney's Law. It goes: Where the vision thing advances, can Halliburton be far behind? In fact, as it turns out, Halliburton was far ahead; so far, in fact, that Petroleum News reported in February 2001:
"If there is life on Mars, it would probably be microorganisms in water deep below the surface of the planet. Dr. Geoffrey Briggs, director, Center for Mars Exploration at the
"Briggs said NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to identify drilling technologies that might work on Marsâ€¦ Halliburton and Baker-Hughes are working on some very advanced systems, Briggs said, some so advanced they aren't willing to talk much about them. He said the
Ah space, I shoulda known it -- just another place to drill. Maybe in the next decade we could find a way to transport
"President Bush emphasized American ingenuity, international cooperation and human destiny when he announced his new space policy this week, but the plan also reflected long-held ambitions of the
"One industry official said the climate changed last October, when
And, perhaps not so strangely, as with so much that happens in the Bush administration, behind vast ambitions and galactic plans of epic proportions there's always the same tiny, overlapping cast of corporate characters, more appropriate to a cozy bedroom drama. Allen and Schneider, for instance, quote Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky expressing enthusiasm for the Bush proposal: "Today our people in Houston, our people at Cape Canaveral, at the Marshall Space Center . . . are talking to their counterparts at NASA -- at headquarters, at all levels."
In a briefing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe quickly reassured reporters that Bush's "exploration program" would be "industry-driven." And who wouldn't claim that industry is driven? The space exploration program seems, by the way, to have emerged at least in part from our vice president's office, where the swinging door has Halliburton written all over it. And even if none of this pans out in anybody's lifetime, in a week in which Halliburton agreed to pay back $6.3 million in overcharges for its
And let's not forget the helium 3 isotope, supposedly to be found in abundance on the moon. Jim Wolf of Reuters ("U.S. Eyes Space as Possible Battleground,"
Interestingly in regard to that small cast of characters, Wolf writes:
"Among companies that could cash in on Bush's space plans are Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., which do big business with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well as with the Pentagon."
All this and yet, as Dr. Seuss might have written, oh no, that is not all; oh no, that is not all. Wolf adds:
"President Bush's plan to expand the exploration of space parallels
Ah, Donald Rumsfeld. Michelle Ciarrocca of the World Policy Institute in "Bush's Space Odyssey,"
Ciarocca points out that the normal cast of characters was well represented on Rumsfeld's "Space Commission" of 2001 and that the new presidential commission to be formed soon to consider the President's space goals will be headed by Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., former Air Force secretary and presently on the board ofâ€¦ you guessed it, Lockheed Martin.
Even if you don't take all this too seriously, it certainly reveals a good deal about the kinds of dreams that are deeply lodged in the Bush administration's overheated brain trust. For them, space exploration is evidently the final fantasy, the
I did notice that, after a couple of days of soaring (or at least hopping) presidential oratory, the plan dropped from sight. Not a mention of it in the State of the Union address; not even a suggestion for a Saddam trial at the International Space Station. Right now all we're left with is two go-carts on Mars, one malfunctioning. Oh well, perhaps it's time for a little humor and the funniest space article of the week was written by Gersh Kuntzman for the Newsweek website,
But whether mining the moon for a helium isotope is pure fantasy or not (Alien without the Alien, just the big, dull cargo ships plowing through space), the militarization of space isn't and our militarization of Earth is already a fact -- with, naturally, the same small cast of characters pulling more than their weight.
And, to put any future militarized moon or Mars shot into the context that matters, we all know that in a world of one Power, our defense budget -- the President asked for $401.3 billion this year and has already let us know that he'll up it for 2005 -- either staggers or beggars the social imagination. We also know that that figure doesn't even include supplemental military requests for
Recently in the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Insight section, Robert Higgs, a scholar at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, took a plunge into the hidden depths of the actual military budget, adding onto it "military items" like, to give but a small example, the $4 billion annually that passes for "foreign aid" but is actually "foreign military financing." He came up with a de facto "defense" budget for 2004 whose "super-grand totalâ€¦ will reach the astonishing amount of nearly $754 billion -- or 88 percent more than the much-publicized $401.3 billion -- plus, of course, any additional supplemental spending that may be approved before the end of the fiscal year."
Concluding his venture into the real finances that underlie our gargantuan military presence at home and in the world, he writes ("Billions more for defence --and we may not even know it," 1/18):
"Although I have arrived at my conclusions honestly and carefully, I may have left out items that should have been included -- the federal budget is a gargantuan, complex and confusing document. If I have done so, however, the left-out items are not likely to be relatively large ones. Therefore, I propose that in considering future defense budgetary costs, a well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon's (always well- publicized) basic budget total and double it. You may overstate the truth, but if so, you'll not do so by much."
The thing to remember here is that nothing this big and well fed is going anywhere any time soon, no matter who's elected to what. And once you have a military of this size with this sort of hardware in hand, the itch to try it all out becomes almost unbearable. Only the other day, head of the Army General Peter Schoomaker offered some comments on this subject in an interview (BBC, 1/22):
"General Schoomaker said the attacks on
"He said it was no use having an army that did nothing but train. 'There's got to be a certain appetite for what the hell we exist for,' he said. 'I'm not warmongering, the fact is we're going to be called and really asked to do this stuff.'"
Certainly, there are a few large corporations -- you know the names -- which will never complain about this urge to use. After all, it keeps the reorders coming in and the weapons assembly lines humming. Oh, and good news, we've got a new place to try out our stuff. The
"The American military has been training and equipping the Georgian army since the spring of 2002. Having trained three battalions of Georgian soldiers, US military instructors were due to leave in March.
"On Saturday the
It's strange, isn't it? The Cold War is far behind us; "containment" is a doctrine relegated to ancient history classes; and yet ever more American deployments and bases ring what's left of the former