For those debating about whether a Space Force is needed, these stories are food for thought, discussion … and perhaps concern, if not a call to action. In the space of a few day, India’s space program blew up one of its own satellites, demonstrating the ability to attack anyone’s satellites and, more ominously, sending debris upwards that endangered the crew of the International Space Station. Then, a Japanese space probe dropped a bomb on an asteroid and behind the space rock during the explosion before returning to inspect the damage and gather data. Data about the capabilities of the bomb, the mineral mining potential of the asteroid … or both? Are these signs that it’s time for closer discussions between space programs? Between governments? Or space-age military action?
“I’m talking about small debris impacts to the International Space Station, the risk went up 44 percent over a period of 10 days.”
When you’re sitting in a tin can far above the world, there’s nothing you can do about space debris except hope it bounces off and practice jumping quickly into the escape capsule, which the astronauts painfully learned recently is vulnerable to dangerous leaks caused by space debris as well. So the 44 percent risk increase NASA chief Jim Bridenstine says was caused by “Mission Shakti” – a satellite destruction test by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization -- is a big cause for concern. How big? Bridenstine called Mission Shakti a “terrible, terrible thing” and “not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.” After the test, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India is now the fourth country to successfully use military firepower in space by destroying a satellite. The test came as Modi campaigns for re-election. Coincidence? A spokesperson for the India space program said the debris would fall harmlessly back to Earth, but NASA claims that’s not the case.
If you need more to ponder, India announced it is teaming with Russia’s Roscosmos to put an Indian astronaut in space by 2022 and the country has entered an alliance with Japan in response to China’s growing space weapons program.
Speaking of Japan and space weapons …
"This is the world's first collision experiment with an asteroid. In the future, we will examine the crater formed and how the ejector dispersed."
The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) announced April 4 that its Hayabusa2 spacecraft fired a "small carry-on impactor" at Ryugu, a near-Earth object and a potentially hazardous asteroid. Ryugu has already dropped two landers on Ryugu and briefly touched down on it as part of a mission to collect particles and return them to Earth to inspect for signs of organic molecules that indicate it may have once been a part of a planet that held life. Let’s hope there was none still living in what is now a human-made crater.
Does progress require destruction? While we should not be naïve enough to think that NASA and the US military are not conducting and planning similar operations themselves, must we accept what seems to be the inevitable … that space exploration will lead to space warfare? Is the purpose of the Space Force and similar forces already in place to protect us from extraterrestrials … or ourselves?
We all live on the same blue ball. Was Major Tom right? Is there nothing we can do?