Space is not the last frontier?

Space : The final frontier | Chakshu Gupta | TEDxNITKSurathkal

Space is not the last frontier?

Space is not the last frontier?

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“Space …. the last frontier” sounds beautiful. But this line, really limited so far by the orbit of the Earth and the Moon, is still very far away to be the last.

“Space … the final frontier …” Perhaps these three words will remain in the history of American television as one of the most recognizable: since 1966, three generations of small and large viewers remember these words of the announcer’s introduction to the three generations of the television series “Star Trek “(Star Treck). The actors and directors changed, but the theme of discoveries, space adventures and acute moral dilemmas that the heroes of these series constantly faced in space remained unchanged..

In cultural studies, there is an interesting concept according to which the American multiethnic nation is just different from other national groups in that it itself was created on the idea of ​​the “last frontier”: sacrifice everything that you left in the Old World, open up new horizons, and through this build yourself, as a person, as a person. Prairies, mountains and valleys are like space. Neither the tsar, nor the landowners, nor the kings are not a decree for you – they simply do not exist.

Therefore, in the middle of the twentieth century, the cosmos seemed to many quite worthy “frontier”: explore, master, conquer. The technology was there. Money too. There is even more engineering talent. But then the Soviet Union arose with its satellite and Gagarin. Soviet space euphoria echoed in America in an echo of alarm. The competition in space between the USSR and the USA was, in addition to the military and technical sprint, also an ideological marathon: whose system will survive? Do you build rockets and launch astronauts? And so do we. Are you on the people’s moon? And we are a lunar rover. Are you space stations? And we are shuttles. Finally, Moscow and Washington, realizing that there may be a limit to any race, decided to cooperate in the seventies..

Space is not the last frontier?

In 1975, Apollo Soyuz was the first international space mission carried out jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union. The American module was successfully docked to the Soviet capsule. The memorable handshake of astronauts and cosmonauts in space was broadcast on television. This project, like the cigarettes of the same name produced by the Moscow factory “Java” and Philip Morris International, have become a symbol of the upcoming detente, easing tensions between the two superpowers. There were also treaties on nuclear weapons. There were attempts at mutual respect and unconditional interest in each other. There were also concessions. Not for long. Then there was the Afghan war, the boycott of the Olympics in Moscow, Andropov with a paranoid sense of danger, Reagan with the “Star Wars” and then Gorbachev. Both sides sincerely mourned the death of the American shuttle Challenger, which exploded on takeoff in 1986. The Cold War gradually depleted itself.

Space as the last frontier was gradually forgotten. Billions were still being spent, but the scope diminished. Someone flew there and seemed to be for a long time. But the names of the people in orbit, for the most part, were not remembered either in America or in Russia. And suddenly, at the end of last year and this year, messages about space were sent one after another. Let’s single out three of them, all are obviously interconnected..

First. There have been reports that the first test flight of the American ship Crew Dragon in manned mode will take place on May 27, weather permitting. The spacecraft is to deliver NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS).

They started talking in the press about the ISS itself. They reminded everyone that this is a laboratory for scientific experiments in astrobiology, astronomy, meteorology, physics, medicine, psychology and other fields. The ISS was originally conceived as a base for possible future flights to the Moon, Mars and asteroids. This station has already been visited by more than 230 cosmonauts plus space tourists from almost twenty countries, most, of course, from the USA and Russia. Most likely, and it depends on funds, the station will be in orbit for another ten years. But this is not the main thing.

Space is not the last frontier?

The entire control system of the new ship, developed not by a government department, but by a private company SpaceX (albeit using taxpayer money), differs from the Space Shuttle ships, which were used until 2011. After that, America relied entirely on Russian rockets and Soyuz spacecraft to get American astronauts into orbit and bring them back. America is returning to its native speakers today. And to the young “techies” from Silicon Valley.

Second. At the very end of last year, the creation of the United States Space Force (USSF) was announced – the sixth and youngest division of the armed forces since the formation of an independent air force in 1947. This smallest military department is expected to receive $ 15 billion next year (for comparison, the Russian annual military budget is estimated in total at about $ 65 billion).

The idea of ​​an independent service for US military space operations has been discussed since almost 2000. There were questions of creating a powerful and centralized space command. Presidents Bush and Obama hesitated. Bush’s hands may have been tied by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and huge military spending. Obama was not ideologically prepared for space forces. He still hoped that the world he had witnessed could achieve calm and disarmament simply because it seemed to him to be the right path..

Space is not the last frontier?

Third. In April, President Trump signed a decree to exploit – collectively and privately – resources and minerals in outer space. Prior to that, countries generally adhered to two earlier international treaties on the use of outer space: one from 1967 and the second, to a small extent, from 1979 on the Moon. The leading space powers did not join the “lunar” agreement, which would establish an international organization to control the actions of countries in space. The 1967 Treaty, however, operates by arguing that outer space is free for exploration and exploration by all countries and cannot be subject to annexation or nationalization..

So, at least three evolving and interconnected space themes. Coincidence? Most probably not. All three themes reflect a turn from talking about the need for interaction and friendship to purposeful and independent action. The signal was sent long ago, these steps confirm America’s foreign policy strategy since 2017: the period of complacency and hope for the goodwill of someone else must be over. In all likelihood, Trump’s rivals will not particularly hinder progress in these three “space” directions after the fall elections. And regardless of their outcome.

In the context of the space station and flights to it, America, according to observers, signals and makes it clear that, in addition to an attempt at a purely technological breakthrough, it can provide its flights without foreign, i.e., Russian or other carriers. The question immediately arises: you yourself, but how is this evaluated in the context of future cooperation? Or even more apart? The signal and its consequences are still ambiguous here. Technology may or may not work.

The separation of space forces into a separate subdivision is also quite natural development, if we also trace the development of the armed forces in other countries. Another thing is, why spend such funds if they can be used for peaceful purposes? The answer is this. Today, it is becoming clear that the concept of deterrence, which was guided by Washington 50 years ago, is back on the agenda. Whatever China and Russia may claim, their military preparations are viewed not as defensive measures, but as a threat not only to US interests, but also to US security. A rampant arms race is, of course, not a solution to the conflict. Conflict can nevertheless be weakened with good will, which often arises when the reserves for the race are depleted. Or leadership changes.

About space and the moon. During colonial expansion, European rulers often used the legal term terra nullius (“land owned by no one”) to declare territories such as Australia their legal possessions. Critics argue that space should not be terra nullius, but should remain a global commons, such as all areas not under the sovereign control of any country: the open ocean, the seabed, the atmosphere and Antarctica. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, for example, bans all economic research and military operations, including nuclear testing, on the sixth continent. The 1991 Madrid Agreement bans coal mining and oil exploration in Antarctica for fifty years. No country can claim territory in Antarctica. Additional agreements govern other research, economic and military activities on the continent. So maybe it’s better to view the Moon as Antarctica?

But if you read the decrees on space exploration carefully, then in them no one calls for the annexation of space and the urgent convocation of a referendum of lunatics to create the fifty-first state of America on the moon. The presidential decree makes it clear that Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, extraction and development of resources in space, but in accordance with applicable law. Although outer space is a legally and physically unique area of ​​human activity, the United States does not consider it a global asset, like Antarctica or the ocean shelf..

Space is not a continuous vacuum and complete anarchy. According to international norms, the United States, Russia, China and other countries are legally responsible for all satellites, modules and other objects launched by them: there are a lot of flying aggregates and even space debris in Earth’s orbit..

“Space …. the last frontier” sounds beautiful. But this boundary, really limited so far by the orbit of the Earth and the Moon, is still very far away to be the last one. There are still plenty of other frontiers and problems on the approaches to it, which require negotiations and mutual concessions. But if you rely on “maybe” in the politics of outer space, then this vacuum will quickly be filled with earthly forces involved in global ambitions and military technologies. Complacency is dangerous. Washington has already figured it out.

  • Eric Shiryaev

    Professor, Head of the Reputation Policy Laboratory, George Mason University


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