There has been a great deal of publicity for the recent 40th anniversary of the American Apollo 11 moon landing of July 1969, plenty of “one small step(s)” and so on - although some of the astronauts’ original quotes from Genesis and other books of the Bible have all but disappeared. There’s no doubt that this was a major achievement of technology and collective work and that individual bravery was involved. It was a testament to the productive capacity of capitalism but not to its development. On the contrary it shows its nature where production, where all its major achievements, are essentially geared more and more for war and destruction rather than the advancement of humanity as a whole.
The whole propaganda campaign around space exploration shows the capacity of capitalism to distort real human aspirations, to take those real feelings of the challenge and adventure of space, feelings that undoubtedly will be of interest in a communist society, and use them as a cloak for imperialism. The pictures from the 1969 mission of the Blue Planet in the darkness of space can only inspire wonder and curiosity. By the way, let’s make it clear at the beginning that we don’t think that the moon shot was a stunt or a conspiracy, nor do we subscribe to the view that the moon is in fact an orbiting space station (neither that it’s made of green cheese!). This definitely happened and it happened for the very material reasons of imperialism imposed on the nations involved as the Cold War became entrenched.
The military campaign for what Donald Rumsfeld came to call ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ began in the 1950s with the Eisenhower administration as tensions between the United States and Russia, between eastern and western blocs increased. At the end of World War II, Britain, Russia and America were all trying to ‘repatriate’ German rocket scientists. But the Americans had already spirited out of Germany Wernher von Braun, the brilliant physicist and aeronautic engineer, along with high ranking Nazi war criminals and senior scientists in order to boost its rocket technology (von Braun, as a good Nazi, criticised the US administration and its military organisation for its “inefficiency”!)
The 1957 launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite, apart from its propaganda value, gave a further impulse to the arms race through the development of ballistics technology. As important as orbiting satellites are for the militarisation of space, it was the technology of the launcher, the R-7 Semyorka rocket, which immediately threatened the United States. The election of John F. Kennedy, who promised in his 1960 campaign to improve US missiles against Russia, brought a further impulse to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles that continued for years in order to close the so-called missile gap. Kennedy wrapped this advance of the space/military programme up in his carefully crafted persona and sold it on as a dream of mankind. There was nothing peaceful and unifying for mankind in this. In fact it meant the development of the division of the world and the advanced militarism to back it up, posing further threats to the existence of life on the planet.
Imperialist rivalries in space today
Eisenhower’s ‘peaceful purposes’ for space exploration were also echoed by Kennedy in the US’s drive for the militarisation of space, which now includes references to ‘national security’ and threatens to become offensive. With the rise of Chinese imperialism and its military expansion into space, the US has responded: “We are going to have to have the capability to take things out of orbit... And we’d better not be second” (USAF General Michael Ryan, Reuters, 2 August 2001). As the Bush administration’s review of National Space Policy said in 2000: “The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. interests.” The Cheney/Rumsfeld et al Project for the New American Century, which is more or less still US foreign policy with some refinements, essentially made the development of the militarisation of space (“... akin to Britain’s dominance of the oceans in the 19th century”) a priority within the Bush administration – the main lines of which Obama seems set to continue.
Rumsfeld warned of a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ in space, and, in a major report to the National Space Council, 11 January 2001, which outlined the necessity to confront China in space. On 11 January 2007 (no coincidence in the date) China destroyed one of its own satellites 537 miles above the Earth. It represented a major escalation of the space/arms race. China has threatened to respond to US interference in its militarisation of space and both it and Russia will not stand by while the US ‘weaponises’ space. While space is militarised, it is not yet weaponised, ie, there are no weapons-firing systems on satellites at the moment (as far as we know). But the technology already in place has significant military value and the US Treasury has recently handed over $200 billion to develop a war capacity based on wireless and internet technology, none of which are possible without secure access to and control of space. There are also developments of kinetic and anti-satellite high energy laser technologies, high velocity weapons and other such weaponry, that are precursors to space-based armaments that could be used to strike targets on Earth.
The Obama administration has already expressed the need for the continuation and strengthening of the USA’s control of the military use of space. He is going to review the National and Aeronautical Space Council, for “Foreign and national security consideration”, according to a former science advisor to President Clinton, in continuity with the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Bush administrations. The aim appears to be to break down the residual barriers between civilian and military space, merging NASA with the Pentagon; and we can expect the latter to exert its weight over the former, though NASA has already had continuous links with the military.
China, India, Japan have all launched space satellites essentially for their own imperialist interests. Behind the European Space Agency’s adventures we see the usual five dogs fighting in a sack as their own imperialist interests and rivalries prevail in space as well as here on Earth. Meanwhile, tensions and developments between the two major elements here, China and the USA mount, and capitalism turns the ‘dream of mankind into a ‘giant leap’ towards a nightmare.