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What Are the Rules of the Road in Space?

July 30, 2013, 5:00 AM
Suborbital-02

Back in the 1960s when I was in Congress serving on the Science and Astronautics Committee, the Space Committee and President Kennedy was the president and then Linden Johnson it was the heyday of the space program and President Kennedy said we would send a man to the moon and return him safely in the decade and it was inspirational and it led to a lot of scientific advancements and investment of money and technology advancements. 

The emphasis here in our country was on the civilian side and I personally recognized that there has never been a medium that hasn't been used for warfare, I mean whether it's the sea or the subsurface of the sea underwater or the land or the air and it's inevitable that space becomes an element in military competition and in defense and deterrents.

I did write an article back in the 60s suggesting that we needed to be attentive to that because the Soviet Union was a vicious dictatorship, a brutal dictatorship that killed millions of human beings and the idea that their advances in space would be for benign civilian purposes was simply naïve and nonsensical.  It's quite true that technologies can be used in both ways, but my concern was and remains that we have to be attentive to that because we do have to be able to contribute to peace and stability in the world and a weakness in that regard would not be stabilizing.  It would be destabilizing.  

As you look out it is clear that the United States at this moment does not have any significant initiatives that will inspire and attract young technologically competent people to the space exploration field.  We have some activities, but they are less so than they had been.  They're less inspirational.  What will that mean over time?  

I think we've got a good base established.  I think that the United States is vulnerable for many reasons.  One reason is that we're free people and we don't to be protective or hiding.  We want to be free to have our kids go to school and expect them to come home safely and to walk out the door and not feel you've got to look down and see if someone is going to shoot you.

So we need to see that we're able to be free people.  The purpose of terrorism for example is not to kill people.  It's to terrorize people.  It's to alter their behavior.  It's to cause them to do something that the terrorists wants them to do that they naturally don't want to do and we cannot afford as free people to ignore the fact that we have that vulnerability.  Technologically we are the most advanced country.  We've thrown away the shoeboxes with the three by five cards.  We're dependent on digits and the threats of space or cyber warfare are real and you know you cannot get gas out of a gas station pump without electricity.  What does that mean? 

Well it means that if someone goes after our power grid we can't get gasoline and if—what do you do then if you can't drive your vehicles in our country as dependent as we are?  The communication systems, and it seems to me that we've developed reasonable understandings about the rules of the road on land, the rules of the road on the sea, the rules of the road in the air?

But we've not developed good rules of the road and understandings of what's an act of war, what's a threat, what are our vulnerabilities with respect to either space or cyberspace and as we go forward into the period ahead we're going to have to as a nation recognize our vulnerabilities, recognize that the enemy has a brain. 

They're not going to attack us where we're strong, therefore, we have to see that we have the kinds of strengths across the spectrum so that we are able to continue to benefit from this wonderful thing called freedom. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

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