The Moon: Promise or Threat?


7-23-09, 9:26 am

Original source: The Guardian (Australia)

The beginning of the week was the fortieth anniversary of the successful outcome of the Apollo project to put a man on the Moon. (And doesn’t it make those of us who watched it live on TV feel old?)

The US of course commemorated the event with all the modesty and generosity towards those who led the way that we have come to expect from them (in other words none at all).

They grudgingly marked the anniversary of the launch by the USSR of the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik). They barely acknowledged the anniversary of the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin). Anniversaries of other Soviet firsts, like the first space-walk or the first woman in space, have passed virtually without comment.

It is hard to realize now the heady atmosphere of those days: I walked into a room at the time to meet a man I did not know very well, to be greeted by his excited voice saying “They’ve got three of them up there!” The USSR had launched the first space vehicle containing more than one cosmonaut.

That achievement really fired the imagination. It was announced in the afternoon papers with banner headlines shouting “Cosmograd!”

The space race unquestionably had a military aspect. How could it not? In the 1950s the US had set about surrounding the USSR with bases for the Strategic Air Command, nuclear-armed bombers kept on 24-hour high-alert, all with designated Soviet targets.

Although the Soviet Union subsequently also developed its own strategic long-range bombers, they did not have the global bases that would have permitted them to successfully retaliate to an American nuclear strike on the USSR.

Imperialism was already conducting a hostile campaign of subversion, propaganda and terrorism which it labeled “the cold war” (and blamed on the Soviet Union, of course). In many parts of the world, this cold war was a hot war, a shooting war: wherever colonial peoples were trying to throw off the shackles of colonial rule, they were faced with imperialist troops, tanks and planes.

US imperialism had waged a full-scale war in Korea but had been beaten to a standstill and was shifting its sights to Vietnam, where French imperialism had come a cropper. But all-out nuclear war was clearly still an option for capitalism: they no longer had a nuclear monopoly (unlike the first few years after WW II) but they did have the Strategic Air Command and its innumerable bases on the Soviet borders.

If imperialism was to be deterred from adopting nuclear war as a viable option in the struggle with socialism, the USSR had to come up with a way to strike directly at the USA. The science of rocketry had been studied in Russia well before the Revolution. It had provided the USSR with a powerful, even devastating, weapon during the Second World War and it gave them the answer to the threat posed by the USA’s nuclear bombers: the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The launch of Sputnik signaled that the USA’s bombers had been rendered obsolete. The USA’s leaders now knew that the US itself was liable to be targeted in retaliation if the USSR were attacked.

With imperialism’s nuclear warriors held in check, the peaceful use of the ICBM was as the means of launching satellites. The space-age had arrived.

For all its military significance, the primary emphasis of the Soviet space program was on scientific research. When several cosmonauts died in the process of developing space craft and means of propulsion, the Soviet authorities closed down their manned space program completely, saying that it was too dangerous.

The USSR space program switched to concentrating on the use of remote-controlled vehicles, both in space and on the Moon.

In the USA, on the other hand, there was intense speculation on the potential for using the moon as a base from which future weapons could dominate the Earth. Combined with the propaganda value of being first to actually “set foot” on the moon, there was plenty driving NASA’s enormous budget for the Apollo project.

The Soviet insistence on the peaceful, scientific development of the Moon’s resources on behalf of all humanity helped the UN to formulate principles preventing territorial claims on the Moon or private exploitation of its resources.

Today, of course, capitalist entrepreneurs, as well as imperialist military leaders, are once again looking at the Moon as a potential source of profit on the one hand and a site from which to dominate the Earth on the other.

When Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the Moon in July 1969 he expressed the sentiments of the people (not of commerce or business) when he declared it “a small step for man, a giant leap for mankind”.

It is in accordance with the needs (as well as the desires) of all the world’s peoples, that no single group or country gains control over Earth’s moon for either military or profit-making purposes. NASA’s revival of interest in “returning” to the Moon, and their much vaunted intention of then sending expeditions to Mars need to be examined in this light.

In view of the amount of trouble and misery in the world caused by US imperialism, including wars, coups, assassinations and torture, would you trust its agencies – whether the Pentagon or NASA, on Earth or in space – to do the right thing by the people of the World? Neither would I.