Though the flight ended in tragedy, the Soviets recently accomplished another space first. Will it affect present U.S. space policy with military considerations, forcing another crash space program? Or will public pressure prevent it?
SOVIET SPACE technology recently scored another impressive first. Three Russian cosmonauts, Lieutenant Colonel Georgi Dobrovolsky in command; Viktor Patsayev, flight engineer, and Vladislav Volkov, test engineer, manned the world's first space station — about two years before the United States is scheduled to put its first space station into orbit. However, the success of Russia's latest space triumph was marred by the tragic deaths of the three cosmonauts.
A Tragic End
After spending a record breaking 24 days in space, the cosmonauts returned to their space capsule for the trip back to earth. Everything went well until "black out" time — the point in the reentry procedure when the heat buildup on the space vehicle becomes so great that radio contact with earth is impossible. At the end of the "black out" period, Soviet Space officials were unable to regain radio contact with the cosmonauts. When the recovery helicopter reached the capsule, the recovery team found the three cosmonauts dead. It was a tragic end to a triumphant space first. By early July, Soviet space authorities had pinpointed the cause of the three Soyuz 11 cosmonauts' death. The three had apparently died of embolism — air bubbles in the blood. Embolism was caused by a sudden depressurization of their space capsule. The depressurization occurred due to a leak which developed in the airtight hatch between the reentry cabin and the orbital compartment of the spacecraft. Some sources attributed the leak to a small hole in the landing cabin. The hole could have been caused by a slight damage in the process of cabin separation from the Soyuz orbital compartment. Whatever the cause, the sudden depressurization resulted in a space version of the "bends" — a problem most often faced by deep sea divers. The sudden depressurization causes air bubbles in the bloodstream that can block the flow of blood to vital organs. The condition can be fatal within a matter of seconds. The cosmonauts were not wearing pressurized space suits. Had they been protected by such space suits, the cosmonauts would have survived the depressurization. Will this tragic accident temporarily halt the Soviet space efforts? Not if the majority of Soviet cosmonauts have their way. It is reported that surviving cosmonauts are urging the government to press forward with space flight exploration in spite of the tragedy. Despite the tragic end of the Soyuz 11 flight, the Soviet space program can add the world's first space station to its long list of space firsts. Among other "firsts" are the first satellite in earth orbit, the first man in space, the first space walk, the first satellite to send back photographs of the dark side of the moon.
Russia: "First in Space" Permanently?
While this latest Soviet space achievement has been labeled purely scientific, the military advantages of a more or less permanent manned orbital space station are not to be ignored. At the present time, according to former cosmonaut Konstantine P. Feoktistov, the station is "... an experimental test flight. Its basic aim is to check the normal functioning of the station and complex machines which Soviet specialists learned to develop." The Soviets state that the main purpose of the station is to amalgamate a large quantity of scientific, economic, technical and medico biological research. But they have not elaborated as to what specific types of information they are seeking. Feoktistov described the test station as a manned space laboratory, containing telescopes, spectrometers, electro photometers and vision devices. Military equipment as such has been banned in previous space treaties. However, the possible use of a space station for certain strategical reasons is not out of the question. And while it would be premature to accuse anyone of utilizing this latest achievement militarily, it should be noted that previous space treaties have not stopped all military activity in space, by either the United States or the Soviet Union. "Spy" satellites have continued to be launched. Communications and weather satellites can still be used militarily "if necessary." Meanwhile, excitement about the space program has waned. Once American astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969, the space race was over in the eyes of most Americans. Also, many government leaders felt a stop should be put to spending additional money on costly space exploration. Consequently the 1971 space budget was slashed to only slightly more than half what it was in 1966. In fact, most Americans had questioned the necessity of putting a man on the moon in the first place. In a Louis Harris Poll conducted in January of 1966, 49% of those polled opposed an American manned landing on the moon while 39% favored such a project. And when asked if they wanted the space project to continue at a cost of 4 billion dollars per year, 55% were against it. The poll also listed the five main criticisms of the space program. 1) "We could better use the money for problems here at home." 2) "We can use the money better to help mankind." 3) "There is no reason to explore the moon or the planets." 4) "God never intended us to go into space." 5) "It's just a waste of money; there will be nothing there of value when we get there."
Why Spend Billions on the Space Race?
In view of the American public's attitude toward the space program, why did America spend 24 billion dollars to put a man on the moon? A large part of the decision was based on military considerations. After the Russians put the first satellite in earth orbit in 1957, Dwight Eisenhower, who was then U. S. President, announced that new steps would have to be taken to keep the United States from falling behind Russia in the scientific aspects of defense. Later, in 1961 President Kennedy reflected the same attitude when he asked Congress for approval of his program to put a man on the moon by 1970. Since the impressive series of successful United States manned moon missions, funding for the space race has diminished along with national interest. America still hopes to place a test lab in orbit sometime next year in preparation for a future permanent manned major space station. During the 70's are also projected the last efforts in the Apollo series of moonshots, to be terminated sometime in 1974. One of the most highly applauded space proposals, the "Grand Tour of the Planets," will very likely have to be ignominiously cancelled due to lack of financing. It was to have taken place during the late 70's — lasting on into the 80's — when the planets will all be in advantageous positions for an unmanned exploration. NASA's yearly budget amounts to only $683 million, however, as opposed to a Space Science Board estimate requiring an annual budget of at least $1 billion a year for the preparation of such a large-scale space adventure. The U. S. plans to concentrate during the 70's on "smaller" missions designed to bring back scientific data rather than more world acclaim. Because of this, some are predicting that the space spectaculars of the next decade may well belong to the Soviet Union by default.
The space race, however, is not merely a Columbus-type adventure on the part of mankind to search the un- known, but rather a desire on the part of one nation to keep its military advantage over another. Space travel has given a new dimension to the old theories of geopolitics. Thirty years ago many geopoliticians believed that those who could control the Eurasian land mass would control the world. Other geopolitical concepts were also based on control of certain land masses. Today, those concepts have a new dimension — whoever controls outer space could conceivably control the world. Consequently, with the space race comes a new concept of world power — what we might call the theory of Astropolitics.
Space Treaties: Will They Work?
Today, as before World War II, treaties are being drafted to insure that no one power can gain control of outer space. In 1967, partly out of fear that the Russians might be first to land a man on the moon, the United States proposed a treaty banning all weapons of war from outer space and the moon. The treaty also proposed that no nation could lay territorial claim to any of the planets. The treaty was signed by both of the superpowers. Immediately following the latest Russian space feat, the Kremlin proposed a pact reaffirming the part of the 1967 treaty that dealt with national claims to the moon and the establishment of military bases on or under its surface. The new treaty was understandably silent about near space around the earth. The Soviet draft of the treaty repeats most of the major provisions of the 1967 treaty, which declared the moon to be international territory and banned all military activity from it. New elements included a pledge for cooperation among the space nations both on a multilateral and a bilateral basis. Other new provisions stipulated that signatory countries can conduct their exploratory activities at any place on the surface of the moon, inside the moon or in a near-lunar space, and that their personnel and apparatus can move freely anywhere on or near the moon. The new draft notes "the successes achieved by states in the exploration of the moon" and asserts that the moon, as the only natural satellite of the earth, "plays an important role in the exploration of outer space." The treaty also forbids orbital nuclear weapons around the moon, weapons on or under its surface, lunar pollution, moon military bases, and weapons testing. It is obvious that the Russians wanted to remind the United States of its promise concerning the moon. The reason for this diplomatic reminder is clear. The Russians have not as yet put a man on the moon, while the United States is able . to send men to the moon as an almost routine operation, and could more readily put strategic weapons on its surface. Unfortunately these treaties, like all treaties, are usually kept only as long as they remain convenient to all parties.
America on the losing End
But fear of Russia breaking a space treaty is not the immediate danger. Russia's latest space first could have some dire effects on America's present position as the world's most powerful nation. An unpleasant choice may have to be made. If the United States doesn't speed up its space program in order to stay at least even with Russians it will lose face in the eyes of the world. Also, it may well lose out in the military developments inherent in the space race, shaking the confidence of Western allies. But should America again succumb to the god of war and decide to spend large sums of money on what the public believes to be a useless project? The decision could cause more of the internal strife that continues to tear at the vitals of the United States. Either way, it seems, America loses. Yet, the paranoia of military competition is a compelling force. For both the United States and the Soviet Union — as have all superpowers throughout recorded history — have chosen to jockey for the supreme position of power. We may well expect to see additional billions of dollars literally go up in puffs of smoke into outer space. Mean-while, the critical problems of famine, poverty, crime, mis-education and war, which continue to ravage our home planet, remain largely unsolved.