Brisbane - Apr 14, 2003
Sooner or later, it's hoped, we will reach out to space in a serious way. Not to merely stick another flag on the moon or throw more money at a space station but to gain a permanent foothold out there.
Few people seem to realise the full repercussions of a nation obtaining this kind of capability. Its further reaching in its implications than most of us might care to imagine and bears great importance to the future of arms control. Along with the national prestige and technological spinoffs which would doubtlessly result, from say a Mars mission, there would also be a way of possibly neutralising the nuclear arms buildup.
Nuclear bombs are arguably the most devastating military weapon ever deployed by humankind. As a consequence of their development we have ironically enjoyed generations of relative peace on this planet.
Everyone is just too frightened to start another world war. However, the holiday may be coming to an end as nuclear proliferation starts to escalate uncontrollably. In the beginning only the US had access to this technology and used it to finally end the greatest war this world had ever witnessed. Right or wrong, nobody can seriously question the total unconditional surrender of Japan as not being a direct consequence of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
Now the nuclear club is growing towards double figures although many of its new members aren't "officially" recognised. Many nations leaders are unhappy about the way some other countries have the bomb and they don't.
Even those in as close proximity to the US as Mexico have expressed grievances over this issue. It is believed that more than a couple of countries are taking matters into their own hands by developing nuclear weapons arsenals secretly.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time and a nuclear strike is not so intimidating a threat when everybody has the ability to counterstrike. As the number of global arsenals increase so grows the possibility they might in fact be used. Then all hell breaks loose and you can kiss your pension goodbye. We had many close calls during the cold war and can look forward more in the future. It might be the result of international tensions. A flock of birds mistakenly judged by radar operators to be a first strike. Perhaps a terrorist act or a meteor.
One time the Russians mistook a rocket carrying a weather satellite on its way to study the aurora borealis as being a thermonuclear warhead targeted for Moscow. Accidents happen. How do you say sorry for mistakenly decimating a capital city. Is any nation on earth pussy enough not to retaliate if it has the means?
Something of course needs to be done but nobody has any workable answers. Clearly everyone can't be trusted to disarm. Not in the real world. The temptation to hide some warheads would be too great and the shifts in international power would impact us in quite devastating ways. Conventional wars wouldn't be stymied by the nuclear card any more. What if all the racial tensions, political turmoil and religious zeal that has brewed and festered in its kettle for past generations proved stoppable only by the nuclear genie? China would probably invade Taiwan for a start.
Nukes have made more conventional weapons pale into insignificance and countries like North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel realise the political clout afforded to them by ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads attached. It seems to be a vicious circle we can't escape but can only watch tighten around us.
Only one weapon can do to the nuclear arsenals of this world what nuclear arsenals have done to conventional arms. Yes, a bigger stick does exist although it isn't much talked about. One that makes nukes a less attractive poor cousin by comparison.
Inertia weapons have that potential. What's an inertia weapon? On a smaller scale, inertia weapons known as cars kill over a million people every year. To nations wanting the ultimate weapon no matter what the cost, a space inertia weapon is the holy grail.
We are no strangers to this horror. It has visited numerous mass extinctions upon us in the past. Some of them responsible for removing up to 95% of life on Earth in one swift hammer blow. Everybody now knows that the most likely cause for the demise of the dinosaurs was a comet or asteroid striking around 65 million years ago.
They also know that this created an opportunity for our small furry rat like ancestors to step in and take control. In fact its now believed the biosphere of our planet has almost started over from scratch many many times because of such planetary impacts.
There has been much talk of late on how we might detect and even defend ourselves from such a catastrophe in the near future but nobody seems to be asking the next obvious question. Could such a weapon now be wielded by humans? The answer is a definite yes.
While a nuclear explosion might destroy a maximum radius of approximately 37km due to the curvature of the earth, a large asteroid could decimate an entire continent. Asteroids require no replenishment of fissionable elements or other expensive maintenance and there are millions of them within easier reach than the moon.
It's just like playing billiards. Every object in the universe in accordance with Newtonian laws travels in a straight line unless another force is applied to it.
Unlike billiards there is virtually no friction in space so an object will maintain any velocity and heading indefinitely. At least until its redirected or something stops it.
A spacefaring nation would have no trouble calculating the mathematical solutions for precisely changing an asteroid's trajectory. Then its a simple matter of nudging it. Push in the right spot and maintain the pressure until your gun is pointed at an appropriate target. This might be achieved in many ways.
Reaction mass to drive your inertia weapon could be rocket propellant or the asteroids own mass. Just attach explosives or a few mass drivers. Whoever reaches deep space first will therefore be faced with the choice of utilising these 'inertia weapons' and the temptation will be great indeed. A big space rock could wipe out any enemy and the threat alone would equate to political clout beyond human comprehension.
A city can after all be evacuated if a nuclear strike is threatened, but a country?
If a nation chose to conquer the high ground of space then keeping everybody else out of it would be all that's necessary to ensure world dominance. Inertia weapons cannot proliferate unless more than one nation can actually reach them. The race to space could therefore end up being a race for control of the earth and solar system. I doubt any of this has escaped our leaders, both east and west.
Would this be a bad thing? No worse than the first atomic bomb. The fact that it's unavoidable if we want space travel makes the question absurd. Why wouldn't a space faring nation seize a weapon ensuring it world dominance? Suppose this capability fell into the wrong hands though or was allowed to be owned by many spacefaring nations. Should that happen we might still see nuclear weapons become redundant and inertia weapons replace them as the newest threat to humanity.
It would mean a new "Cold War" on a scale to dwarf the previous US and Russian one. A nuclear war despite all the bad press is in fact survivable. Not all human life would be eradicated and if all the nukes in the world were launched then we in the west might be set back a century. It would be nasty but not the end. It might seem like it but we would eventually recover.
The same can't be said for a space war where mountains are directed at the earth.
When the first space probe experimentally landed on the asteroid Eros recently, that celestial bodies motion was imperceptibly changed by the gentle bump of a manmade spacecraft for the very first time. A herald of greater things to come maybe. Nobody can accurately predict the future and I don't want to add my name to the long list of failed seers in history.
The technology however is more than a prediction and has existed for a very long time. A new space race looks set between the US and enthusiastic newcomer China which I would call a safe bet. Now what do we do if China one day announces Ceres to be on course for the US and they want Taiwan in exchange for "assistance"?
We might truly learn what it means to see the sky falling.
In the movies "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" we saw nukes save the earth in from both a rogue asteroid and a comet. Perhaps it will ironically prove to be the other way around. The threat of genocide from space might be persuasive enough to make nations disarm.
Ultimately averting a future nuclear war. Expensive nuclear warheads would become second rate weapons.
Expensive and redundant ones in the face of that firepower.
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Nuclear Space And Fears Of Nuclear Proliferation
Brisbane - Mar 25, 2003
According to New York's Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, "It doesn't matter how good our airport security is if all it takes to bring a nuclear device right into midtown is putting it on a ship or bringing it in on a truck."
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