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WHAT WE THINK
The space program's real mission

February 7, 2003 | Page 3

WAS THE drive for corporate profits behind the Columbia space shuttle disaster? With the media's round-the-clock coverage echoing George W. Bush's themes of patriotism and sacrifice, few voices in the mainstream were asking that question.

But while details were still sketchy as Socialist Worker went to press, investigators were pointing to tight budgets and subcontracting as likely factors in Columbia's breakdown. Turns out that NASA outsourced space shuttle operations to United Space Alliance, a private company. As a result, NASA's workforce was trimmed by close to 25 percent in just the last seven years.

Less than a year ago, Richard Blomberg, then chair of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, told Congress, "I have never been as worried for space shuttle safety as I am right now." Of course, safety wasn't just an issue for the seven astronauts--but for the hundreds of thousands of people who could be exposed to highly toxic materials from the shuttle debris.

There are many more questions to be answered about why the shuttle fell apart--or why NASA didn't keep the astronauts at the space station after problems were detected during Columbia's launch.

But you can be sure that Bush will use the occasion to whip up a patriotic atmosphere to help prepare Americans for a different noble "mission"--a barbaric slaughter of a war on Iraq. The White House will also use the tragedy to grab more federal money for the space shuttle program--and further its goal of militarizing space.

The space shuttle is the product of a collaboration between NASA and the Pentagon--the extent of which came to light in 1989 when the military canceled plans for its own separate $5 billion space complex and disbanded its secret team of 32 military astronauts.

Between 1985 and 2001, there were 10 "classified Department of Defense missions" for the space shuttle. And the Department of Defense Manned Space Flight Support Office remains central to shuttle flights to this day. So it's no coincidence that space shuttle operations manager United Space Alliance is co-owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing--the two largest Pentagon contractors.

All this is part of a bigger U.S. drive to militarize space, including the construction of a national missile defense system. The goal is what the United States Space Command calls "full spectrum dominance"--military superiority not just on land, sea and air, but in space as well.

"Although unlikely to be challenged by a global peer competitor, the United States will continue to be challenged regionally," declares Space Command's Vision 2020 document. "The globalization of the world economy will also continue, with a widening between 'haves' and 'have-nots.'" And the solution to this poverty and inequality? Meet the "critical need to control the space medium to ensure U.S. dominance on future battlefields."

Bush may hail the seven astronauts who lost their lives as heroes. But the U.S. government doesn't care about them any more than the soldiers that it plans to send to kill--and be killed--in Iraq.

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