Man is on the threshold of an unheralded new era. Space is about to become exploited! But for what purpose?
The U.S. space shuttle Columbia has suddenly plunged man from the age of space exploration to the age of space exploitation. The direct exploration of space began in 1957. Sputnik I was flung into orbit. Man-kind stood in awe. The tiny dot in the autumn sky circled the earth, exultantly beeping the fact of its existence. It could do little more. Twenty-four years have since passed. We have seen the launching of thousands of satellites, the placing of human footprints on the moon, extended periods spent in orbiting laboratories and probes sent to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. As far as space adventures are concerned, man has succeeded in standing. Now he prepares to walk.
Why the Shuttle?
The shuttle doesn't look like a rocket. It doesn't look like a plane either. In fact, it doesn't even look airworthy: its body is too bulky for its length, and its wings are too stubby. But the shuttle has plunged man into the second space age. Previously, whenever a payload was sent into orbit, the launching vehicle could be used only once. After serving its purpose, it would find an orbit of its own, there usually to circle the earth as useless space "junk," or fall back into the atmosphere. Very expensive. This approach provided the possibility of placing satellites into orbit, but it does not allow for easily repairing or resupplying a satellite already in orbit. Nor does it allow for bringing any sizable item safely back to earth. Hence the concept of a space shuttle: a reusable launch vehicle that takes off like a rocket, stays in orbit long enough to accomplish its mission, then returns to a landing strip on earth. There it is refurbished and readied in about two weeks for another voyage. It can be used again and again. Both going and coming it can haul tons of equipment, supplies and space gear. And it can rendezvous with existing satellites. No one is saying the U.S. space shuttle is inexpensive! It has cost the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) $9,600 million so far, and another $4,400 million will be required to build America's planned fleet of four. However, once in operation, real economic advantages are expected over conventional, expendable rocket boosters. From the beginning, the shuttle project has had less funds than thought necessary to do the job. This forced NASA to resort to certain shortcuts in production and testing with some unfortunate results. Much of the fact that the shuttle is years behind schedule is blamed directly or indirectly on the budgetary restraints. "Just plain stupid," is the way one NASA scientist was quoted in regard to attempting something of the magnitude of the shuttle project with limited funding. Some have openly expressed fear of disaster, claiming certain vital testing procedures were eliminated because of the expense involved. In particular there was concern about the Columbia melting upon reentering the earth's atmosphere. Critical to the shuttle's existence are the more than 30,000 insulating tiles that are glued to the underside. Designed to shed the heat that normally consumes objects plunging through the atmosphere, the tiles have proved to be a sizable headache for NASA scientists. Each small, fragile-as-an-eggshell tile has to be individually computer designed. No two are alike. They are painstakingly glued to the body of the craft. It takes one worker as much as one day to attach one tile. There is a remote chance that a tile could be ripped off in flight and then, in a zipper-like effect, a string of tiles — dooming the mission to a mere incandescent flash in the sky. On future shuttle flights there will be a tile repair kit on board in case any tiles are lost previous to reentry, although no such repair kit was included in
THE SPACE SHUTTLE is the most versatile spacecraft yet built. Photos and artists' renderings, from right to left, show: shuttle riding on back of 747 airplane during testing procedures; launch of shuttle attached to giant fuel tank plus two booster rockets; jettisoning of now empty fuel tank eight minutes into (fight (booster rockets have already been discarded); a space-lab being carried in cargo area; construction of orbiting structure from parts brought by shuttle.
plans for the maiden flight. "It is a highly risky venture," said a scientist connected with the project. But risky or not, America's space program now depends on the shuttle. "We plan to begin the transition of our operational spacecraft to shuttle launch by 1983. Our dependence on the shuttle will become critical," said former U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown.
Others in the Race
While the United States is putting its space eggs in the shuttle basket, the space program of the Soviet Union will apparently include a smaller shuttle-type vehicle, plus a continued emphasis on building the largest rockets in the world. They are working on boosters more powerful than the Saturn 5, whereas the U.S. no longer has even a Saturn 5 capability. "This indicates the U.S. may be entering an era in which extensive Soviet launch vehicle capabilities alone could be a dominant factor in the strategic use of space compared with even the substantial benefits expected from the U.S. space shuttle," says Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 16, 1980. In plainer words, even with its new shuttle, the United States may remain behind in the race to exploit space. Still, whether the program is American or Soviet, the thrust is similar: it is time to exploit space. Other nations too are getting into the act. The French have scheduled two test flights this year for their Ariane rocket booster, designed to launch satellites for the European Space Agency. Two French astronauts are being trained in the Soviet Union and are expected to join Soviet cosmonauts in a future flight. The European Space Agency, West Germany in particular, has been working with the U.S. shuttle program. India, China and Japan have been developing booster rockets of their own. And almost any nation, corporation, industry, group or even individual can, on a standby basis, send an experiment or invention into space aboard NASA's shuttle for as little as $3,000.
More effective worldwide communications are one of the looked-for benefits of the new push into space. Satellites capable of carrying hundreds of thousands of telephone calls at once, plus worldwide TV programming, will be a reality. Other satellites will continue to monitor weather patterns and natural resources, studying the health of crops, predicting watershed problems, locating oil and minerals and fulfilling numerous other such functions. The zero-gravity vacuum of space is expected to make possible the manufacture of ceramic, optical, electronic and metallurgical products of much higher quality and purity than can be achieved on earth. The Soviets have already conducted experiments along this line. They have used onboard furnaces in their
Man can do it. There is no doubt about it. He can move into space. But is he ready for it? He hasn't learned to live peaceably on earth yet.
Salyut space stations. It is thought that improved vaccines, hormones and other biological products will also be possible thanks to space factory technology. Orbiting space stations will grow in size, providing an environment where work can be carried on without the necessity of wearing space suits. Astronomical observatories will be built that will not be hindered by having to peer through the haze of the earth's atmosphere. Space platforms will serve as launching and docking facilities for trips deeper into space. Of immediate interest is mineral exploitation of the moon and Mars. Vehicles launched from space platforms will have the advantage of not needing to be streamlined, since air resistance will not be a factor. Nor will they need the tremendous booster power that is needed in earth-based lift-offs. Following closely on the heels of space industrialization will be space colonization, according to scientific seers. Our planet is overcrowded, its resources rapidly being depleted. It is only natural to pick up and move on to a new, even if hostile, frontier just as man has done down through history. These seers describe immense space colonies with tens of thousands of inhabitants. One scientist went so far as to state that colonies could be constructed with several thousand times the land area of earth. They would have artificial gravity and be totally self sustaining, even to have parks, streams and recreational areas. Food would be grown, wastes recycled and the pattern of life would be very similar to what it is on earth. And you can be sure — though the glowing descriptions of what the move into space will be like do not mention it — there will be a crime problem similar to what we have on earth. And there will be crooked politics, strife about minorities, broken marriages, unhappy lives and — since humans will be humans — wars in space!
Preparing for the Ultimate War?
The shuttle, as one news magazine proclaimed, "also hails the militarization of space." It is no secret that both the United States and the Soviet Union are adapting space technology to warfare — often referred to as "defense." Spy satellites already can read an automobile license plate number from orbit and spy capabilities will continue to become more sophisticated yet. Other satellites serve for military communications. Plans exist for interceptor-destroyer satellites that can hunt down and destroy other satellites. If space stations and platforms can be used for industrial purposes, they can also be used for warfare. Missiles, eventually even laser beams or exotic death rays, could be directed back down to earth with pinpoint accuracy. Of what value would so-called early warning systems intended to detect the arrival of enemy missiles from some place on earth be if nuclear missiles could be "stationed" a few hundred miles above their targets? Satellites able to influence the weather or interfere with the communications of potential enemy nations have been suggested. As have other fantastic weapons straight out of Buck Rogers, such as huge orbiting magnifying glasses capable of concentrating the sun's light into beams of searing heat. To what incredible military uses blossoming space technology can be put is limited solely by human imagination. As The Plain Truth has pointed out before, whatever man seriously sets out to do, he can do unless God intervenes to stop him! This was made evident shortly after the Flood of Noah's day, when humanity pooled its resources and tried for the first time on record to reach into the heavens. Men started with a tower. But they would have equaled current technology long ago had God not slowed them down by dividing them, confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:1-9). God said at that time: "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (verse 6, RSV). That is a remarkable statement concerning what humans working together can accomplish. Only recently the same thought was echoed by a NASA official." 'What the moon program showed,' says Richard Thornburg, assistant manager of the shuttle projects office at the Cape [Canaveral], 'was that man, not through strokes of genius but using the teamwork of ordinary people, can solve whatever technological problem he faces' " (Now! magazine, January 23, 1981 — emphasis ours). Man can do it. There is no doubt about it. He can move into space. But is he ready for it? He hasn't learned to live peaceably on earth yet. He carries into orbit with him the same nature that has caused all the mayhem, suffering and wars down here. Already the military emphasis predominates in space endeavors. And the trend is sure to escalate until war finally does break out involving the super-weaponry on earth and in the skies. One can only wonder exactly what part space warfare technology and weapons play in some of the end-time cataclysms described in the Bible. A prophecy in Deuteronomy 30:4 seems to allow for captive slaves being sent out into space. God says of the time soon coming, when he will gather his scattered people, "If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you" (RSV). Could such fearful verses have in part anything to do with man's military space endeavors? If space warfare is to be a major factor in the ominously approaching World War III, it perhaps accounts for some of the mysterious terms with which that war is described in Revelation 9. One thing is sure: The build-up of weapons on land, sea and now in the skies is leading to the day Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:22 when all human life would be wiped out — except that God is going to step in to prevent it from happening. Fortunately for all humanity. For a description of the thrilling changes God is going to bring about in this world after he intervenes in human affairs, read our free booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What It Will Be Like.