Guns in Space

For anyone who grew up reading a lot of science fiction, like myself, the “weaponization” of space probably seemed pretty inevitable. I mean, all those cool stories couldn’t happen unless there were really big spaceships flying around all over the place with plasma beams and graviton pulse weapons and… sorry, my geekdom was showing.  But lately we’re talking about the real deal, and not only does the weaponization of space mean a threat to the human race like we’ve never before faced, (and we’ve faced some biggies) it also seems to say something about us as a species. No matter how advanced we become, no matter how much we know, no matter how much mastery we achieve over our physical world, we’re still a bunch of apes trying to intimidate the other apes by carrying our big sticks and screaming at each other to seem fierce:

Story #1

Recently, the world was told that a “bus-sized” spy satellite was about to drop out of orbit and crash somewhere on Earth, possibly releasing a half ton of toxic fuel and poisoning anyone who might be in the area of the crash site (if they weren’t already dead, that is). To save us all from this grizzly fate, a navy cruiser fired a missile at the satellite, blowing it to smithereens in orbit.

The question that people seem to be asking is, was it really necessary to shoot this thing down by firing a missile at it, or was it really done to show everyone that we had the technology to shoot down spy satellites with missiles? China has done this before to one of their satellites, so perhaps this was necessary to show that the U.S., too, has the power to shoot down satellites?

I’m not sure I buy that. I think it probably was necessary to shoot it down. At two and a half tons, the satellite in question was too big for us to count on it being burned up in the atmosphere, and it would have been impossible to predict exactly where it would land. With toxic fuel still on board, destroying the satellite in space would be the only real option.  But, the real issue is something that no one seems to be concerned about – how did we end up with a bus-sized “spy satellite” full of toxic fuel about to rain down on our heads in the first place?

Are we so desperate to see what our neighbors are doing that we’re willing to threaten the lives of random people on Earth to do it? And if it was only a ‘spy’ satellite, why was it so damned big, and filled with toxic fuel? You don’t need a five ton satellite with on-board fuel to take pictures of the Earth. And even if it were necessary, is it too much to ask that they make the satellite with a self-destruct, so we don’t have to rely on the military being able to hit it with a missile in a scheme that would make Wile E. Coyote proud?

Also, how did we in the U.S. get to the point that we allow our government to hang a bus-sized satellite filled with toxic fuel over our heads, without knowing why it’s there and what’s on board?

Story #2

There is a handgun on the International Space Station. It’s in the survival kit in the Russian space capsule that is attached to the station and is essentially, part of the station.  I understand the purpose of the gun. If any of the crew had to use the space capsule to escape the space station in the event of a catastrophic failure, there’s no guarantee where they will land. Assuming they survive the landing, they may find themselves in the middle of a war zone. Or in New Jersey.

In either case, they will want to have the handgun.  But, given that an astronaut drove across the country to confront her love rival, and was suspected of wanting to kidnap her, are we so sure about the mental health of our astronauts that we’re willing to put them all in tight quarters, make them sick to their stomachs from being in microgravity, force them to work 18-hour days, separate them from their friends and family, have them eat toothpaste for every meal and then tell them where the handgun is kept? I’m just a simple Earthling, but that doesn’t seem like such a hot idea. We can’t help it, though, it seems. We like guns, and we like blowing things up. That proclivity probably won’t go away, no matter how high above the Earth we go.

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