Chaisson and the Shuttle


To the Editors of the Crimson:

Professor Chaisson of the Astronomy Dept. should be commended for having the courage to speak out against the space shuttle and the increasing militarization of space (Crimson, Mar. 30 81).

The US Defense Department already spends more on military space programs than NASA spends on civilian ones. In addition, funds for military uses of so-called "civilian" programs (such as the space shuttle) have long been hidden in the NASA budget, much the same way as funds for developing nuclear weapons are included in the Dept. of Energy's budget (one-third of the budget).

About 60 per cent of the satellites launched by the US and the Soviet Union are for military purposes. These include navigation and geodetic satellites which aid in the guidance of ballistic missiles, to the point where extreme accuracy of targeting can be achieved. In combination with communications satellites, these programs are central to implementing the avowed US counter force doctrine of fighting "limited nuclear wars." Much has been made of another type of satellite being tested by the Soviet Union--interceptor/destructor or, "killer" satellites--although little mention has been made of the fact that as early as 1965 NASA's Gemini program, with its rendezvous between two satellites, successfully demonstrated US interceptor/destructor capability. Now the US military wants to use the space shuttle to make destruction of Soviet satellites a real possibility.

The US has clear superiority in space technology, as admitted by US military officials. It looks as though space warfare is to be added to the list of US "firsts" in the arms race, after the atomic bomb; the intercontinental bomber; the hydrogen bomb; MIRV; sophisticated anti-submarine warfare, etc. The Soviet Union has propoed several times since the 1950s an international treaty banning the use of outer space for military purposes, but the US has been unwilling to sacrifice its own advantage for the sake of slowing the arms race.


It may seem surprising that Professor Chaisson was the only Harvard professor to speak out against this latest example of a dangerous US initiative in furthering the arms race. His colleagues in the Astronomy Dept. have either silently acquiesced to the military's plans or have been vocally supportive of them. When one considers that 50 per cent of our nation's scientists are engaged in military-related research it becomes clear that material concerns have long since replaced moral ones. If we are to avert the grim consequences of our present uncontrolled arms race, many more scientists must join Professor Chaisson in speaking out against this madness.