(Reuters) - President Bush's plan to expand the
exploration of space parallels U.S. efforts to control
the heavens for military, economic and strategic gain.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld long has pushed for
technology that could be used to attack or defend
orbiting satellites as well as a costly program, heavily
reliant on space-based sensors, to thwart incoming
Under a 1996 space policy adopted by then-President
Bill Clinton that remains in effect, the United States
is committed to the exploration and use of outer space
"by all nations for peaceful purposes for the benefit of
purposes allow defense and intelligence-related
activities in pursuit of national security and other
goals," according to this policy. "Consistent with
treaty obligations, the United States will develop,
operate and maintain space control capabilities to
ensure freedom of action in space, and if directed, deny
such freedom of action to adversaries."
No country depends on space and satellites as its
eyes and ears more than the United States, which
accounted for as much as 95 percent of global military
space spending in 1999, according to the French space
"Yet the threat to the U.S. and its allies in and
from space does not command the attention it merits from
the departments and agencies of the U.S. government
charged with national security responsibilities," a
congressionally chartered task force headed by Rumsfeld
reported 10 days before Bush and he took office in 2001.
Hitchens of the private Center for Defense Information
said the capabilities to conduct space warfare would
move out of the realm of science fiction and into
reality over the next 20 years or so.
"At the end of the day it will be political choices
by governments, not technology, that determines if the
nearly 50- year taboo against arming the heavens remains
in place," she concluded in a recent study.
Outlining his election-year vision for space
exploration last week, Bush called for a permanent base
on the moon by 2020 as a launch pad for piloted missions
to Mars and beyond.
unspoken motivation may have been China's milestone
launch in October of its first piloted spaceflight in
earth orbit and its announced plan to go to the moon.
"I think the new initiative is driven by a desire to
beat the Chinese to the moon," said John Pike, director
of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and space policy
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
The moon, scientists have said, is a source of
potentially unlimited energy in the form of the helium 3
isotope -- a near perfect fuel source: potent,
nonpolluting and causing virtually no radioactive
byproduct in a fusion reactor.
if we could get a monopoly on that, we wouldn't have to
worry about the Saudis and we could basically tell
everybody what the price of energy was going to be,"
Gerald Kulcinski of the Fusion Technology Institute
at the University of Wisconsin at Madison estimated the
moon's helium 3 would have a cash value of perhaps $4
billion a ton in terms of its energy equivalent in oil.
Scientists reckon there are about 1 million tons of
helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the earth for
thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space
shuttle load or roughly 30 tons could meet all U.S.
electric power needs for a year, Kulcinski said by
Bush's schedule for a U.S. return to the moon matches
what experts say may be a dramatic militarization of
space over the next two decades, even if the current ban
on weapons holds.
Among other things, the Pentagon expects to spend at
least $50 billion over the next five years to develop
and field a multi-layered shield against incoming
missiles that could deliver nuclear, biological or
Ultimately, this shield -- first proposed by
President Ronald Reagan and dubbed "Star Wars" by
critics -- may include space-based interceptors, the
first weapons in space, as opposed to sensors that guide
Last year, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency
obtained $14 million for research on basing three or
more missile interceptors in space by the end of the
decade for tests.
The plan would field satellites armed with multiple
"hit-to-kill" interceptors capable of destroying a
ballistic missile through a high-speed collision shortly
after its launch, according to Wade Boese, research
director of the private Arms Control Association. Such a
system could also function as an anti-satellite weapon.
No decision has been made yet to deploy space-based
interceptors as part of the U.S. missile defense program
"although we are conducting research and development
activities in that area," a Defense Department official