In 1967 the world witnessed the signing of the Outer Space Treaty, and now over 100 countries have joined the international agreement to declare space as "the province of all mankind," to be used "exclusively for peaceful purposes", and kept free of weapons and military installations. This idealism is a far cry from current reality, with US officials espousing values of domination and exclusive advantages to be maintained in space, while other countries are blowing satellites out of the sky with missiles to prove themselves mighty "space powers." Will we ever reclaim space as the peaceful province of all mankind, or will the road to Donald J. Kessler's infamous scenario be paved with neutral particle beams, lasers, nano-satellite swarms, machine-gun mounted satellites, and giant tungsten rods?
(This transcript is autogenerated and sucks. We'll fix it soon!)
Thank you Alexey for this incredible transcript!
[0:05] I’m David Torcivia.
[0:07] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:09] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[0:19] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be.
[Humming Back to the Future theme] [0:30] Doo doooo doodo doo.
[0:36] What is that, the Star Trek theme, David?
[0:39] No, the Star Trek theme goes: pum pum pum pum pum pum pum pum pum, or the only good Star Trek theme. [The Next Generation theme plays] There are other ones, there's that like that weird, the original one. [Star Trek: The Original Series intro theme plays] Dooooooweeeeeeee, alright, that’s bad, cut that out.
[Humming Force theme from Star Wars] [1:01] Yeah, what you think about that?
[1:05] Pretty good, pretty good, not bad. So today we're going to talk about composers.
[1:09] That's right! Alright, so what are we really talking about, David? Last week you alluded to looking up at the sky.
[1:16] Yeah, and you alluded to being out of this world. So maybe you should just reveal to everyone exactly what we're doing here since you’ve already given it away.
[1:24] Yeah, okay, I guess. I could tell you’re a little bit upset that I kind of spoiled the topic, but you know, we've been reading articles about satellites and countries trying to vie for their position at the top of those who are dominating space. And, you know, space is a fascinating realm in the context of the very many political games that are major countries play against one another. I keep reading these articles, David, and it's fascinating to me because right now the major world powers are jockeying for control and dominance of Earth's orbit, but it plays out completely different than it does on land. [2:04] For one, there are no borders in space, right? There no geographic borders anyway, on land you can say: our country is between this river and that mountain, and anyone who crosses this line is in deep trouble. But in space satellite circumvent the entire globe: if Rus-sia tried to park one of their tanks next to the United States White House or, you know, China maneuvered an aircraft carrier into the Gulf of Mexico, we'd practically be declaring war at that point, right? But in space, a Chinese satellite might just pass by an American satellite every single day. And another interesting thing about this dynamic of countries vying for con-trol spaces is that, as we'll get to, there's not always a clear difference between a harmless space probe and a satellite-killing space weapon.
[2:56] I think, Daniel, as far as I'm aware that space is supposed to be entirely weapon-free. There's a lot of treaties and stuff that we've agreed more or less to this idea. But you making it sound like it's the wild west almost.
[3:10] It is the wild west, David, we have no idea what's going on in space and you know.
[3:16] No idea at all? Maybe you’ve seen that that glowing disc that rises some nights? No idea what that is.
[3:24] No idea. It's all up for grabs up there at this point. But besides that, David, when I read about all these countries competing with one another, as serious as the topic is, the satellites and these weapons and all that – I can't help but laugh just a little bit at the comic nature of it all. [Haunting low droning noise of an object moving in space] [3:47] [IN NARRATING VOICE] The vast and endless vacuum of space: quiet, ancient and somehow conveying awesome power. In the distance the unwavering soul. From where we are 35780 kilometers above the Earth the Sun appears as big as a dime. It is, in fact, a perfect ball of hot plasma 1.4 million kilometers thick projecting rays of light into the infinite and ever-expanding universe. A faint blinking light approaches.
[Sound of a satellite beeping]
[4:35] The common slow approach of a small object is, in fact, a 3000 kg telecommunications satellite cruising at 11300 kilometers per hour, it's size and speed made insignificant relative to the scale of our solar system. Itself, a mere drop in an infinite ocean. Let's accompany this telecommunications satellite.
[Sound of a satellite passing by, first increasing in volume, then fading away]
[5:09] We float on, unassuming, but then in the distance, another object appears.
[Different kind of beeping starts]
[5:23] This new object is a geostationary satellite. It orbits the earth west to east traveling at the exact speed to remain in the same position relative to the planet's surface, it must have detected the approach of our telecommunications satellite. And in response and ever so sub-tly arc jet thrusters attached to the satellite heat gas molecules via electrical spark and then…
[Electric spark sound and then hissing noise]
In the frictionless vacuum of space, the absolute tiniest application of force is enough to alter an object's course. And so, ever-so-gently these two objects approach one another one inch at a time. Also attached to the approaching object are three large disc antennas, they point directly at us, staring at us, approaching us. Like a cat that stalks its prey, we are being lis-tened to.
[Satellite sounds intensify, a voice of on the radio is heard]
[6:37] We are not following a geostationary orbit and so after a moment, the distance be-tween us and the other satellite begins to widen. We are leaving it behind but its creepy eyes keep staring, staring, staring.
[7:14] On Earth, chaos.
[Newsflash intro music]
[7:19] [Intense radio personality voice] Trying to listen to your neighbors is not only unfriend-ly, it's an act of espionage.
[7:24] [As a radio presenter] Were you trying to listen to us, sir? [A voice in an audio clip says: “This. Means. War”] Due to recent developments, our country is forced to announce the creation of Space Ma-rines. Our Space Marines will not tolerate such disrespectful interference.
[7:38] [Pompous general voice] They won't take our freedom. To demonstrate our superiority, we are launching missiles at our own weather satellites to demonstrate the unparalleled skill and ruthless determination of our scientists and engineers.
[Radio presenter voice] You are listening to AA 24/7 news, in other news: 30 million Ameri-cans have declared medical bankruptcy and have been forced to sell their few remaining cancer medications on the black market. Over to you, Daniel.
[8:05] Yeah, so that makes me laugh a little bit, that's the kind of image I had in my mind when I was reading all these articles, David, about countries arguing with one another about who's violating who and who's declaring war and who is invading our territory out there in space, right? So, for example, David, on March 18th 2019, the US Defense Intelligence Agency published a document titled “Challenges to Security in Space”, in which it calls out Russia and China as the two biggest threats to US space operations, claiming that China is second only to the US in the number of satellites orbiting the Earth while both Russia and China are apparently developing anti-satellite and counter-space technologies. From the re-port, “some actors are seeking ways to deny the effectiveness of the United States having witnessed more than 25 years of US military successes enabled by space capabilities.”
[9:08] And then around the same time that that was published, I believe it was also March of 2019, the US Missile Defense Agency requested from Congress around $300 million for the 2020 budget, so that they can develop more advanced missile defense technologies like la-sers, and more significantly, a working neutral particle beam which they hope to place in or-bit by 2023. David, do you know what a neutral particle beam is?
[9:38] Is it like a Neutral Milk Hotel?
[9:40] A what?
[9:41] It was a clever joke about a band but I guess I'm too cool for you.
[9:46] I'm not from Brooklyn, David, I don't listen to.
[9:48] The band is from the south, Daniel.
[9:50] David, I'm not from the south anymore, as of 4, like 3 or 4 weeks ago I'm a Yankee now.
[9:57] I don't think that's how that works, but I actually do know what a neutral particle beam is. I mean, it's kind of like a laser but instead of shooting light it shoots atoms that it's strips electrons away to get this neutral charge and that it carries energy in this beam of adjusted atoms to wherever it needs to be going, more or less, vastly simplified.
[10:20] So, basically, it's a machine gun firing atoms in space, most likely.
[10:27] Yeah, I guess so. You either stripping those atoms of electrons or alternatively adding electrons depending on, you know, how you're trying to adjust the particle beam.
[10:38] Yeah, well, and of course the atoms are stripped of the electrons because the beam part, right, is an actual beam, it's firing these atoms in a very small laser-like direction and charged atoms would merely repel each other, right? You don't want that, you want them to be uniform in this beam so that when it hits the target, it could be another satellite, it could be a missile being from Earth, it very quickly melts the hardware, gets inside there and disman-tles the thing.
[11:08] That's pretty cool, I guess.
[11:10] Alright, well, you think that's cool, David. Let me give you another thing that the Unit-ed States has been working on. And this is called Rods from God. What do you think? Do you even know what a rod from God is, David?
[11:24] I do in fact because I'm the one that told you about it. But for the sake of the joke, it is when you drop leaflets with Rod Flanders from space on Earth.
[11:36] That would be truly terrifying but no, it's not quite that terrifying.
[11:39] Well, that Rod is specifically the Rod from God because of his devotion to Jesus Christ, our one true Lord.
[11:45] Let me give you a hint: so, during the Vietnam war, the United States experimented with a weapon called "lazy bombs" and these were bombs or they were shaped like bombs. You know, like you've seen a comical image of a bomb, it kind of looks like a fish with the fins but it's all metal and it drops a payload. Well, they built these to a 1-inch scale, very tiny, I mean, these are things that would fit on your finger, right? And then they folded some sheet metal, and our military welded that sheet metal fin to these 1-inch bombs and then they dropped them by the thousands of people in Vietnam from 3,000 feet in the air. And the idea was that as these things fell gravity accelerated their velocity, and by the time they hit Earth they were penetrating with such force that they could go 9 inches into concrete and they would often penetrate human skin and leave many people dead as a result. And we took this idea and we kicked it up a notch and said, what if we did the same thing but we dropped it not from 3,000 feet but we dropped it from space? And instead of a 1-inch little bomb, it was a 20-foot telephone pole made of solid tungsten that when it hit the Earth, it caused an explo-sion comparable to a small tactical nuclear bomb. That's Rods from God.
[13:06] This reminds me of a quote from a video game actually, Daniel. It's also about space warfare, it's from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and there's a very short scene where these new recruits are being taught the first time how to fire a mass projectile. And what these trainers emphasizing to them is that if they miss firing this projectile and it doesn't have any explo-sives or anything, it's literally just like a ferrous slug. Then they are going to fuck up some-one’s day at some point. I'm just going to read a little bit of this because I think it really gives a better job explaining exactly, you know, what kind of effect these things have. Because when you talking about massive weights and massive speeds, there's no need to have any addi-tional sort of explosive capability. So, let me read this, okay, ready?
[Audio clip from Mass Effect plays]
Gunnery Chief: This, recruits, is a 20-kilo ferrous slug. Feel the weight. Every five seconds, the main gun of an Everest-class dreadnought accelerates one to 1.3 percent of light speed. It impacts with the force of a 38-kiloton bomb. That is three times the yield of the city buster dropped on Hi-roshima back on Earth. That means Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space. Now! Serviceman Burnside! What is Newton's First Law?
First Recruit: Sir! An object in motion stays in motion, sir!
Gunnery Chief: No credit for partial answers, maggot!
First Recruit: Sir! Unless acted on by an outside force, sir!
Gunnery Chief: Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty. Once you fire this husk of metal, it keeps going till it hits something. That can be a ship or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into >deep space and hit somebody else in ten thousand years. If you pull the trigger on this, you're ruining someone's day, somewhere and some-time. That is why you check your damn targets! That is why you wait for the >computer to give you a damn firing solution! That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it!" This is a weapon of mass destruction. You are not a cowboy shooting from the hip!
Second Recruit: Sir, yes sir!
[Audio clip ends]
[15:16] And as funny and sci-fi this is, there was a word in the end of that which caught my eye, mass destruction. And also, Daniel, when you're describing these rods from God and the capabilities, they have in terms of what is the equivalent force of their detonation, that sure sounds like a weapon of mass destruction. But if I go and I pull up my favorite outer space treaty.
[15:40] Oh is that the Outer Space Treaty from 1967, David?
[15:44] That would be the one. It was written in 1966, It was signed by a number of countries, not every single country ratified it though. Iran, for example, did not ratify this treaty which is important because they do have a space program that we'll talk about in a little bit. But this treaty basically lays out a number of things and the language that uses is so counter to that previous example where you were reading from this modern-day publication where the Unit-ed States talks about their military capabilities in space, which is primarily what communica-tions and reconnaissance, other spying tools. But I just for a second want to take a moment to read some of the language that people were writing about space in 1966 when this was penned and give you a different sort of perspective on the way that people visualized it.
[16:29] So these are people riding about the 1967 treaty or within the 1967 treaty.
[16:35] This is the language from the actual treaty written in 1966 assigned to ratify shortly after that. And just contrast that with the way the US military talks about space today as a re-source to be exploited, as a force multiplication tool. And so, this is how the treaty starts:
“The States Parties to this Treaty,
- Inspired by the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man's entry into outer space,
- Recognizing the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,
- Believing that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,
- Desiring to contribute to broad international co-operation in the scientific as well as the legal aspects of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,
- Believing that such co-operation will contribute to the development of mutual understand-ing and to the strengthening of friendly relations between States and peoples”
[17:39] That's the Preamble, it goes on a little bit more to lay out some information based on previous treaties that the United Nation actually set up very early in the creation of that or-ganization as it exists in the first part. But this treaty is important for a number of reasons be-cause it's really laid out the rules, more or less, for what we're allowed to do in space ever since it was first signed and ratified. And there's a lot of components here that I want to take apart: one is that it really focuses that space is not about sovereignty and it's not about milita-rization: it's about exploration, increasement of technology, the opening of new borders, you know, bonding nations and people to each other – all these very positive excited things they wanted to try and use this as a global tool, not focused on war, not focused on anything but developing a better world. And, of course, at the same time, you know the Space Race that is going on, that brought this treaty up to being a need, was once driven by military applica-tions, one driven by the explorations of an intercontinental ballistic missiles which is where much of the initial practical experience in rockets begin. As far as we are concerned, man-kind's first step into the stars with the rockets that the Nazis built at the end of World War II to try and bombard Nations around the world, that knowledge is what directly pave the way for the American and Russian Space Program. The American’s program especially with the stealing of Nazi war criminals, stepping them out beyond any sort of international justice with something called Operation Paperclip and bringing them to United States as military assets, putting them in charge of large amounts of public funding and resources in order to drive our own space program, to give us a military advantage over the other nations that we saw as threats from the world, predominantly Russia. So as far as we're concerned, very beginning of man's conquest of space and it's a very particular word that I'm choosing is one driven by militarization. And so immediately you begin to see we have these two competing ideas of what space can be: there is the aspirational one that’s written out with these words in his treaty like article III for example here which I'll read.
[19:56] States Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation and understanding.
[20:15] Of course, there's some wiggle room in that, those words which I'm sure is intentional where if you have the US’s view of what maintenance of international peace is, it says, let me have the biggest hammer, the biggest sword dangling over everyone's head so they're too scared to do anything else and step out of line. A peace that the United States defines and controls. But at the same time, you know, that the people are writing this words article IV, for example, bans any nuclear weapons or, and this is the critical part, “any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction”, which I think would include those Rods of God, even though they're not conventional explosives.
[20:50] Well, I mean speaking of wiggle room and literal swords hanging over people's heads I think this is kind of one of the advantages of something like a Rod of God weapon where, yeah, the treaty does say no weapons of mass destruction, but it specifically calls out nuclear biological or chemical weapons being placed in Earth's orbit and conveniently no mention of falling rods, right?
[21:14] Well, it does leave the generic term “any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” but then I mean who's going to argue in court over whether or not a tungsten rod represents a weapon of mass destruction when your cities are being leveled by falling telephone poles basically. The larger question is, you know, this treaty, it is a UN treaty, but who enforces something like this? And that's the critical component of this larger conversation about space, is that the only reason that we haven't seen it turned into a complete battleground is the balance of powers, Russia versus the United States, and then now with several other countries that have entered the fray and have their own launching capabilities: there are nine independent countries with their own launch capabilities plus a consortium of other countries that have joined together and form a larger block beyond on that. At the time this article was written it was really only two countries who had that capability, the United States and the Soviet Union, I said Russia a bunch but it really is the Soviet Union at the time.
[22:14] I just really want to re-emphasize this push and pull thing, where it doesn't exist not only in these conversations that politicians are having, that academics are writing about but also in the way that the public sees space, where we have on one side this vision of explora-tion, of the first people in orbit, the first people on the moon, all these like amazing firsts for mankind giving us back all these fantastic images and science and research that really revo-lutionized our understanding of everything and given us amazing tools, technology capabili-ties. But at the same time, a lot of this stuff is funded by or just developments that that hap-pened to occur because of initial military uses. So, you see this in all sorts of things: like a lot of the telescopes and digital imaging technologies pushed by the American spy organiza-tions and there's a lot of them. I don't want to just say NSA or something but there are a lot of reconnaissance organizations all operating their own fleet of satellites. And sometimes you see this cross between these where the US has retired old satellites and handed them over to universities to use aa telescopes, they say, oh this spy sound like we were using for dec-ades we don't need anymore, cause we have way better stuff, so we'll give it to a university and now suddenly it's one of the best-known telescopes in orbit. Of course, it begs the ques-tion: well, what do we have that we don't know, that we don't have access to that could be dramatically forwarding science but instead used to be giving the United States an upper hand in its military and consequently its economic and cultural sovereignty over the rest of the world.
[23:52] Yeah that's a great point. Because a lot of people talk about the need to fund space-related technology and advancement, right? But so much of our scientific funding now goes to military purposes and, I mean, it's great if the military develops some technology that then trickles down to all of us, you know, the mere public. But usually, what it means when the military developed technologies that they get exclusive control of that, we don't get the bene-fit, at least not immediately. And so much of the conversation around space has become so militarized where the priority now in terms of the discourse coming from world leaders is all about who controls and who dominates. Case in point, everyone has heard that Trump an-nounced his desire to create the so-called space force.
[24:39] Yes and he was endlessly mocked for such a ridiculous idea.
[24:44] Endlessly mocked but it's not really a crazy idea at least in the logic of this current crazy framework of how we think about space, right?
[24:53] And it's not even a new idea, I think it's important to establish, this is not something Trump just thought up and deployed out, this was put into effect by request at the Pentagon to reinstate a program that already existed.
[25:06] Right, created in 1985 by President Reagan, who started Space Command but then it got merged with the US Strategic Command. And the US military has various commands, these are basically divisions within the Department of Defense that oversee some combat space, right? Like this Cyberspace Command or the European Command, and these will combine different factions of the US military to achieve a strategic and regional goal, to command some kind of battlespace. And we used to have Space Command like I said it was merged with US Strategic Command, but today Trump wants to create a sixth division of the US military called Space Force. But in the meantime, while he's waiting for Congress to ap-prove that, on August 29th he went ahead and reinstated Space Command as one of 11 cur-rent US combat commands. And according to Trump, “it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space.”
[26:09] Again, contrasting that with the language that we see in that original UN charter, the treaty that everybody including United States signed and ratified, which has things like “in order to promote international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space”, quotes like that, it’s just completely filled, this treaty, with these words really, how can man-kind help each other versus the shift increasingly that we’re seeing towards: how can the US exploit and dominate space as much as possible?
[26:36] And you see that language everywhere in seemingly every single report. The current head of the Air Force Space Command General John Raymond said of this plan: “I really be-lieve we're at a strategic inflection point where there's nothing that we can do as a joint coali-tion force that isn't enabled by space, zero. Our adversaries have had a front-row seat in our many success in integrating space and they don't like what they see because it provides us such great advantage. They're developing capabilities to negate our access to space.” And this is the mindset right now of our world leader saying, on the one hand, we have the Amer-ican president saying we need to dominate space, it is not enough to just be there, we have to dominate and then we have our military saying: that's right and every other country sees us dominating space and so they're going to, you know, try to deny us that right, that privi-lege, so we need to continue to build up our military presence in space to prevent anyone from reducing our domination. It's all very much this like weird competitive zero-sum game that where we seem to be advocating for. No hint of collaboration or cooperation in sight.
[27:56] Well maybe this is a good point to turn the conversation to why this has changed and what those other countries, those adversaries that we hear in that quote that have access to space are, and why the US has ramped up this conversation about increasingly militarizing space as much as possible. Cause remember when this was first written that set up that space to be used for cooperation, exploration and the advancement of humanity, there were only really two spacefaring powers: United States and the Soviet Union. And since then there are now nine countries that have independent launch capability and then even more if you include consortiums like the European Space Agency, in which not one single country is capable of launching by themselves if they would be cut off. But collectively they're capa-ble of fielding rockets, putting satellites into orbit, etc. So, the nine countries that have inde-pendent launch capability are, of course, the United States, Russia, and China, everybody knows those three. Two of which, of course, United States has, I don't want to say bad rela-tions with, but they can be stressed, they are the other large countries battling for supremacy: militarily, economically; and threats according to the United States military and its leaders on many different levels. Beyond that we start seeing some smaller countries, many of which are close US allies, Israel, Japan, of course, the United States is heavily allied with both of these nations, then there are some countries that have inherited the ability to launch rockets basically cause they split off. So, this would be Ukraine, in this case from the Soviet Union, they still have some of that technology so they are capable of fielding their own rockets. Be-yond that, there are a couple of other countries that the US has a very, well, what I want to say here, Daniel? tense relationships with. And that is North Korea and Iran. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the fact that these two nations, nations that the United States consider some of their greatest threats of any country in the world is because these two nations do have launch capability. And the space that the United States has seen itself as completely being able to dominate at will is now being challenged by increasing numbers of nations who might not be allied or under the threat of the United States, it is a threat to the way that we want to dominate the world. And then there's one country left out because we have com-plicated relationships with them, tense in some areas, very positive in others. And that is In-dia and India is an interesting area in space exploration, they're putting a lot of money, a lot of research into it but also there's a sort of wild west way of going about it that I think it's probably worth talking about.
[30:42] And I said at the beginning of this episode how some of this is a little bit funny to me in like an hour ironic comic way and this is a good example because, in March 2019, India shot a satellite, its own satellite, a weather satellite out of orbit and then promptly declared itself a space power. That's what I'm talking about, David, like we live in this weird timeline where the only way our world leaders can like get into the cool parties, right, is to just brag about something they blown up in the last 6 months. Which is what the Indian Prime Minis-ter Modi did: they blew up their weather satellite sending debris everywhere which was a point of contention among the international community. Maybe we'll do an episode one day on The Kessler syndrome which is interesting. But, yeah, so they blew up this satellite and then he got on TV to say: yo, look who just became a major space power!
[31:37] And you know, David, it really reminds me of when Bernie Krause was on the show in episode 44 - Do Not Disturb, and he was lamenting the fact that the United States has lost a lot of its environmental protections and one of those was its Sound Abatement department
[Excerpt from episode 44 – Do Not Disturb]
The most recent noise issue came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution about 250 years ago. And that's when it’s really exploded. We're looking at things right now, I mean, again it's an issue that the United States doesn't deal with very well, because until 1982 we had as an office within the EPA the Office of Noise Abatement. And when Reagan came into office, he wanted to ensure that a lot of these agencies would be defunded because he did-n't like the regulation. So, James Watt became Secretary of the Interior, and he defunded the Office of Noise Abatement, which was created to help America quiet down and to become more conscious of the effects of noise, that we’re having terrible health effects on lots of people in quickly and noisy cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit and so on Well, when Watt was asked why he did that, his answer was very illuminating, I think. He said: “noise is pow-er, and the noisier we are as Americans the more powerful we appear to be to others”.
That sounds like a cultural pathology to me.
Well, you know, the late Paul Sheppard wrote this wonderful book called "The Others: How Animals Made Us Human". I remarked at one point and he said: "you know, the further we draw away from the natural world the more pathological we become as a culture. If you don't believe that just watch the news at night".
[33:31] This is peace through strength, David. And shortly after this televised event, Prime Minister Modi wrote on Twitter, saying: “India stands tall as a space power, it will make India stronger, even more secure and will further peace and harmony.” Now we here, in the United States, as the driving force behind the militarization of the planet. We have to at least recog-nize some responsibility for the fact that other countries are blowing up satellites in the name of peace.
[34:04] Well, there is some funny double-twisting of the words: they're blowing up satellites for peace, to emphasize how powerful our peace enforcement capabilities are – that seems a little Orwellian maybe, as much as I hate that word. Part of this also doesn't make sense en-tirely to me, Daniel. So, in this case, India blew up very unadvisedly their weather satellite I think it was supposed to be deorbited anyway but they decided this was a great time to test their anti-satellite missiles. And these are a tool that a number of countries have, of course, the United States, Russia, China, India, and Israel being the primary systems that we know of, there are many other systems in development, allegedly North Korea and Iran are working on some but we're not sure. And then these countries that already have systems do manu-facture these missiles and sell them to other nations so they also have the capabilities. But I'm not entirely sure why, of course, United States military in all the propaganda they put out talk about their incredible dependence upon space technology in order to provide the vast amounts of information technology they do and are capable of fielding in a modern-day war or conflict, of course, which we haven't really seen in decades, of proper conflict like they imagine playing out. But there are a number of uses that these satellites do have that are im-portant for military operations: on one hand, you see things like missile launch alerts that give them 15 to 20 minutes head start If there is an ICBM fired at them. Course, I don't know how likely it is to see nuclear exchanges but if you don't want those systems blinded in case, I guess, that there is an apocalyptic event going on, but even beyond that, the vast military-intelligence apparatus that the United States fields is very, very depended upon the constant ability to look down anywhere on Earth in incredible resolutions and know exactly what is being moved, how it is being moved, why it is being moved and it gives us this vast insight to all sorts of things that are happening on the world at any time. And of course, the communi-cation backbone that these satellites provide allows people to react or to issue orders, put to both individuals and electronic devices all around the world. So, it's understandable why you want to attack these things but these systems aren't something that just exists in a vacuum, they are the first or last layer of tertiary or even more systems of backups. So, take for exam-ple a cruise missile, right? So your fire a cruise missile, it is GPS-guided, and the military GPS is much more accurate than the civilian use, you can be accurate to within centimeters or millimeters in the best-case scenarios to get an extremely accurate hit on this target.
[36:47] But we know this, other countries know this, Russia, Iran – these are countries that have developed incredible GPS blocking and jamming technology. So, if you were to rely solely on GPS technology, then they would be able to block these cruise missiles or other smart bombs, whatever it is, from coming in as striking something. So, American Military de-signers are aware of this problem and have also installed terrain recognition, sky recognition, various types of systems that can recognize the movement of the device whether it's a ship, a missile, a plane, whatever and accurately update its location to within inches, to feet so you still have extremely accurate tracking capability that exists entirely without the help of any sort of electronic network or much less any sort of satellite network, communication can be updated by high flying planes, these same planes, we still operate U-2 spy planes, for exam-ple, they still fly active missions constantly. We have an increasing number of high recon-naissance drones that are flying around the world. The apparatus that these satellites exist to give us also exist within the atmosphere of Earth. And even if you were able to take out all the stuff, you would maybe slow some of the reaction capabilities of US military of any other military that you would happen to be attacking whether that's Russia, whether that’s China, whatever.
[38:09] The fact of the matter is, these countries have fought these types of traditional wars for years without this technology. And the technology to do that exists and is well refined and well capable of fighting these types of situations without the reliance on this stuff. So that makes me wonder, you know, if you're firing missiles at satellites, you really, you really in the middle of the shit, right? If you are at the level where you have to be blowing up satellites at the sky, satellites that hopefully you know where they are, hopefully, that you can track, then you are already so incredibly fucked I don't even understand the point of it. But say you were able to do that, you know, beyond the dangers that it provides for all the other satellites go-ing, you're really only threatening, I feel like, civilian uses for these things because the mili-taries have such robust backups for these systems to go out. So then your targets become things like weather satellites, satellite communications, other technologies that are I have a disproportionate impact on consumers and civilians rather than the militaries who do have these robust backup systems. And the whole system seems crazy to me, it is not a flex or maybe it is a flex. And a lot of these missiles did come from just accidentally researching very accurate missiles in order to try and target ICBMs as they come into your nation, and so they had they serve a dual purpose, the Israeli missiles, for example, their primary mission objec-tive is ICBM interception but they also because of that have satellite interception capability up to a certain altitude.
[39:39] But at some point, it just starts to feel more like a dick measuring contest than any-thing else, especially because it's so obvious what happened when these attacks occur. And I can't ever see a scenario that isn't the apocalypse where these missiles are flying and at-tacking satellites. And in that case, who cares if you have that capability, it doesn't make sense to me. Especially with all the other resources being put into various ways of attacking satellites which can both be from the ground to the Earth, such as these anti-satellite mis-siles, or from orbit to orbit with very spacecraft attacks satellites, things like that. So, maybe we can talk about some of these methods that engineers and nations have designed in order to kill other satellites.
[40:23] If a missile won't do it, David, how about just design another satellite to do it? You know, we can have assassin satellites orbiting the Earth, just you know, casually picking off other satellites and no one is the wiser because that assassin satellite appears to be doing something else, like just a normal function. And in fact, that is kind of what's going on right now. So, the US and some other countries have been accusing Russia of secretly launching weapons into space. And this is pretty interesting, in 2014 the US observed what is believed to be space debris resulting from a Russian rocket launch. But later saw that this debris was making some odd course changes, something that would require some kind of propulsion technology, and no one knows exactly what it is but it's expected to be a possible weapon, a so-called inspector satellite. Now, what is an inspector satellite you ask, David?
[41:22] I would assume it inspects satellites.
[41:25] You're getting there, it basically these are satellites that function to perform some kind of supporting role to other things in space whether that's clearing debris for a rocket launch or conducting some kind of space vehicle refueling up there, right? But the same capabilities that make those satellites good as support also make them effective as a weapon, right? Be-cause a satellite that has a movable arm that functions to remove debris or refuel another satellite, well, that arm could be used to nudge another satellite out of orbit. it would also be super easy to acquit these types of objects with offensive tools such as little kinetic pellet pro-jectors, light beams that can disrupt target satellite’s fragile sensors or you could put listening devices on these inspectors satellites for intercepting communication. So while they go about their function, you know, going from a satellite to satellite and appearing to be playing a supporting role, they're actually listening in on communications like our dramatic scene from the beginning of this episode, right?
[42:33] So, that was in 2014. Then in September 2018, France accused Russia of maneu-vering its Olymp-K satellite known for its advanced listening capabilities super close to the French and Italian Athena-Fidus satellite, which provides secure communication for both the French and Italian militaries. Then in November of 2018, just a couple months later, Russia launched a rocket which was supposed to place three satellites in orbit but the US observed five total objects leaving the rocket at the peak of its journey leaving us to suspect the possi-bility of more nefarious Russian inspector satellites. And if you think about it, David, it kind of makes sense why we would be so worried about these types of things, because our own satellites are so vulnerable. And a simple nudge to a particular satellite and then all of a sud-den there might be a hole in our surveillance network providing the perfect little window for a hostile nation to play something without us noticing.
[43:36] We can only hope.
[43:38] And so that that's what Russia is doing over there behind the curtain, but.
[43:41] Well, this is another funny moment for me, Daniel, because there are so many arti-cles that are just absolutely panicked by this Russian satellite, whatever it is. And there's all these things, defense reports in the mass media, in places like CNN about how this very dangerous satellite, which we don't know anything about, could be the end of US space su-premacy and we need to desperately figure out how to best militarize and protect ourselves from this thing. Satellite, again, that we have no idea what it's actually doing, could literally just be a refueling site. It's just the fact that they have that capability of adjusting their orbit easily, moving around, that some people find absolutely terrifying. Meanwhile, the US has a program called the X-37B which looks like a teeny tiny space shuttle. And it is an autono-mous vehicle operated by the Air Force that has the ability to, it has a bay that can open up, we're not entirely sure what its purpose is, but it's probably a sort of space plane satellite that can fly around and directly attack and interfere individual satellites.
[44:48] And so maybe we are projecting our own knowledge of what is capable in space and turning into a fear of some unknown Russian thing. And again, when someone else does it, then it's a danger to the safety of space and threatening the piece that exist in space but when the United States does it, United States have been doing it for longer, the original, OG dogs in this field with this space plane recently up in orbit for 717 days. And that's a special thing about this particular plane: it’s launched into orbit, it does its mission for a couple of years and then it comes in and lands so it can bring stuff back, it can be reequipped for new missions, it could be updated, whatever. When we do that, oh yeah, that's just like, that's to-tally chill, that's how we operate in space. Space Force, baby.
[45:37] David, I definitely want to hit on that point again about the kind of moral a double standard that's going on with space but I just want to point out that, you know, we mentioned earlier how when Trump announces Space Force a lot of people were making fun of it. But it's not that unusual, like you said, for the president to be considering expansions in space. And we're not the only ones doing that, now that countries are demonstrating their space prowess hours by blowing shit up in orbit, there's a lot of other countries that have to now think about how they're going to defend their own space assets. And we mentioned the French and Italian satellite. In July of 2019, the French defense minister announced France’s new plans to develop a Space High Command, similar to the United States, albeit with a smaller budget. And this Command will be responsible for defending its satellites in orbit. And according to French officials, this is in direct response to displays of offensive ca-pabilities from the US, Russia, China and, of course, India, our new space power. And you want to hear just three of some of the projects that have been floated by this new French Space Command, David?
[46:51] Mind control rays, weather control systems.
[46:56] Weather control, David, but none of those would work. Because, first of all, mind con-trol doesn't work on satellites, and number two, weather control doesn't work in space cause there is no weather.
[47:06] No, you can put the thing in space control and control the weather beneath it, you can only control things downward, that's why we need more space.
[47:13] David, specifically I meant that France is trying to defend the satellites that it already has in orbit and for that, they are considering ground-based lasers, okay, not that unusual, patrolling swarms of nanosatellites…Oh, we're getting fancy now! Or the tried-and-true, ma-chine gun mounted satellites.
[47:34] There were plans to put machine guns in various space stations that were launched into orbit but they found in testing that they were too dangerous and could literally shake the stations apart. So it wouldn't be unprecedented to have machine guns mounted in orbit. And I would actually be unsurprised if there hasn't existed and if there doesn't currently exist sat-ellites that are armed in some sort of way like that. Because despite the best attempts of these treaties who can enforce a space weapon militarization whatever treaty? It's not possi-ble, you can't go up there and inspect these satellites, unless you who have, I guess inspec-tor satellite. You can't go up there and pull of these satellites that break these treaties down like you don't have that capability, I guess unless you have an anti-satellite missile that you're going to launch against an ally and threaten a Kessler syndrome.
[48:26] Which, if you’ve seen the movie Gravity, it's like that, where it if we explode too much stuff in space then it can cause chain reactions and blow up everything else in space and then we can create a shield of crap in space basically that prevents us ever from getting out of orbit. We'll talk about this in more depth in some future episode, again, I think we'll talk about the economics of space at some point, maybe part two of this, this is just militarization. But that is a very real risk of the threat when we are increasingly militarizing space, creating these tools designed to destroy a satellite and other things in space we risk denying not just this individual satellite or nation their access to space but all of humanity from accessing and utilizing this space that is supposed to be something that brings us together and allows all people and all states to benefit collectively.
[49:22] Well speaking of collective ownership in ownership in general, David. One thing that we haven't touched on, because this is really just about the militarization, and something will come back to it in another episode, the desire to extract resources from space, this is some-thing that's come up a lot recently as companies are all vying to gain control over viable re-sources that maybe an asteroids and other celestial bodies. And it's created a little bit of con-fusion in the international community because no one can agree what is a person's right to extract resources in space. Going back to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, it does establish that no country can colonize a celestial body or use them for military purposes or otherwise appropriate objects in space. But again, you know, there have been disagreements by gov-ernment on whether or not space mining and the appropriation of resources falls under that ban. Not surprisingly the government's poised to be the first beneficiaries of space mining field as the treaty does not in any way ban asteroid mining in the same way that a ban on owning the ocean does not prevent nations from extracting fish in international waters. And so as a result, in 2015, The United States under President Obama passed the Space Act which will allow American citizens and companies to own as property the resources they ex-tract from space. And following suit, Luxembourg has passed similar laws.
[50:56] And then the opponents of this development include developing nations and others who believe that international rules should be established to recognize space as a shared resource that should not be hoarded by any one nation, especially not any one company. But it's again like you said David, it's the Wild, Wild West right now. There are some treaties trying to be developed, there's a group of international law experts who are trying to draft ba-sically what would be like a rule of thumb book on how to engage in war in space. And then people are trying to sort out, well, if you capture a space station and you take everyone pris-oner, do those prisoners, are they categorized as prisoners of war under the Geneva Con-vention? All of these really dehumanizing ways of talking about war is going on right now about space.
[51:47] And I think this is a conversation that's not being held in a public way, right, that real-ly engages the public. And we have countries and companies just ready to pillage and domi-nate the common heritage of mankind as it was once described. And it makes me wonder where is the public discourse in this? Where is the accountability? Where is our ability to step in and say: hey, maybe we don't agree with privatizing space, maybe we don't agree with installing military weapons in space for the purpose of excluding anyone else from ac-cessing it, right? Is this really a common heritage that we all share? Or is it first come, first serve, might makes right?
[52:30] And David, if you don't mind if I can step on a soapbox here so that I can get a little bit closer to the celestial heavens. It's topics like these that I wonder: why do we insist on domi-nating everything and everyone? And I'm sure to many people that comes across as a naive question and I think I know what the argument is that attempts to answer that question. A Navy SEAL might say: peace requires strength. I know what a centrist would say, that say: if we want to pass policies, we have to work with the war profiteers, not against them. And I know what the game theorists will say: life and politics are zero-sum games and if we don't build guns, someone else will, and it's better to be on top of a failing world than on bottom.
[53:21] And many of these perspectives start from a fundamental assumption that we are the moral standard of the world, that we can do no wrong. And so imposing ourselves on others is by this logic good for them and who they are never ultimately matters as long as we domi-nate space, as long as we dominate whatever – from our perspective, the world is a better place. But all of these perspectives, regardless of the moral lens, also rely on this dichotomy of us versus them. It assumes that if we do not win, they will win. And if they win, we will lose. David, I wonder sometimes, are we like a schoolyard bully who has been picking fights for so long that it becomes impossible to think along any other terms? As our own “strength” in the form of military force on foreign soil caused so much resentment and mistrust in this world that we would rather double down and burn bridges than apologize and make amends.
[54:24] Our military today represents more than a third of the entire world combined forces. Our military is nearly four times greater than China's. And it dwarfs Russia’s by a factor of 10. At this point can we really hold on to the myth that the only way to build relationships with others is to show them how big our guns are? According to General John Raymond appar-ently, it is our great military success that provides us with such great advantage which has caused animosity in the first place. And from another source, here's the premise to the US defense intelligence agencies report titled “Challenges to Security in Space”: “The ad-vantage the United States holds in space—and its perceived dependence on it—will drive actors to improve their abilities to access and operate in and through space. These improve-ments can pose a threat to space-based services across the military, commercial, and civil space sectors.”
[55:26] And here's another one, from the US National Air and Space Intelligence Center re-port titled “Competing in Space”: “After the Cold War, the United States dominated space. Over the past two decades, an emergent China and a resurgent Russia developed ad-vanced technologies that eroded our advantage. Foreign competitors are integrating ad-vanced space and counterspace technologies into warfighting strategies to challenge U.S. superiority and position themselves as space powers” – looking at you, India. What we're saying is that our advantages which others are necessarily excluded from will drive others to improve their own abilities and that fact alone is a threat to our dominance. And believing that our response is to kick it up a notch. Let that perspective sink in for a moment because that tells you everything you need to know about concentrated power. We hold dominance over a particular resource, a resource by the way that is regarded as the common heritage of mankind, and we know that by dominating that resource others will have no option, they will be driven to improve their own independent technologies to access that resource. And that is why, in the logic of our leaders, we need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building particle beams and lasers in space. If we truly wanted peace, we would make the first move. We would make the first move towards reconciliation and mutual support with our supposed adversaries. The responsibility for de-escalating violence falls on the entity that backs the largest share of that violence. And with the size of our military and with some 800 foreign mil-itary bases around the world, that's us. Now last week, David, you asked us to use our imag-inations, to stretch our minds and visualize a better world, to imagine what a better world might look like to each and every one of us.
[57:30] Well, I don't have a full answer yet but I think after this episode my better world in-cludes nations like ours who do not prioritize dominance but rather prioritize, I don't know, life? In my better world, we don't say: oh, we're going to dominate the world and how can we prevent others from having a share? Instead, we say: how can we help? No strings attached. And I know what you're screaming, all you game theorists and you centrist and, you navy SEALs out there: a naïve, and if we let our guard down for one second, we’d be overrun, China would win. Really? If we, the most powerful military presence in the history of this planet reached out our hand to other nations and offered a commitment to the pursuit of well-being for all people, we would have no allies in this pursuit? If we offered to remove our military bases from foreign land and halt the buildup of our weapons, tanks, missiles, nukes, jets, satellite-killing missiles so that we could redirect our resources to making this world a better place for everyone. If we were to make that gesture, do we really believe the other na-tions will not stand with us and extend their hands to meet hours? Do we really believe that other countries do not desire a world where they are free from the constant pressure of ag-gressive US military forces and free to pursue shared goals for the betterment of all people? If we chose to halt our 300 million-dollar projects for neutral particle beams in space in favor of projects to tackle food insecurity in Latin America, would no one work with us? And if we canceled the 34 billion dollar deal for F-35 jets so we could collaborate with China to fight desertification that is ruining their agricultural land and then use that experience to assist Spain, Iceland, African nations and our own people, would other countries respond by build-ing nukes to attack us with?
[59:29] And, you know, at this point I have to admit, I think my language is a bit too vague, I keep saying ‘we’ and ‘other countries’. But the reality is: ‘we’ makes no sense, who is we? We, the people? We have no power. We, the nation? Well, what is a nation anyway?
[59:46] Who makes the decision to go to war and stockpile weapons, who decides to domi-nate space, it is not we, you and me. Because you and me have not had power in this world for a long time. Go back and listen to Episode 79 – Death Dealers. Our world is run by bil-lionaires and war profiteers, men who stoke war and then sell weapons to both sides. Until they no longer have power, we will always live in a world where the ultimate goal is the ac-cumulation of profit through violent means into the hands of a few number of people. So maybe it's time that we start imagining ourselves: we, the people. As an entity that has the ability to stand up against these world leaders who are hell-bent on nothing but extracting the resources of our common heritage into their own hands, while the rest of us suffer the fate of climate change inequality, poverty, food insecurity, surveillance and I don't know, you name it. Lasers in space will not make this world a better place but working with others to solve the very solvable and fundamental problems of our world today, to work together to make us all better off? Well, let's just say that's an idea I think is worth shooting for.
[1:01:06] Set your sights high, Daniel, and maybe we can land in the stars. As always, it's a lot to think about and a lot to do. So, we hope, you'll do all of that and so much more. You can find more information about everything we talked about today on our website as well as a full transcript of this episode at ashesashes .org.
[1:01:26] As always, a lot of time and research goes into making these episodes possible and we will never use advertising to support the show. So, if you like it and would like us to keep going you, our listener can support us by giving us a review, recommending us to a friend, sharing these topics in your daily conversations with friends and family. Or go to pat-reon.com/ ashesashescast and provide a little financial support. We really do appreciate it and we would like to thank our associate producer John Fitzgerald and Chad Peterson, thank you so much. Also, listeners, contact us via email it's contact at ashesashes .org. And remember, we are asking for your Better World, what do you imagine? Whether that's the way you interact with your neighbors day to day or some kind of big systemic change, what does a better world look like to you? Send us your thoughts, we read them and we appreciate them.
[1:02:24] Email is not the only way to get in contact with us, we also have a phone number where we've been taking down all your voicemails, your messages. And for our international listeners, you can just record these and email them to us. And that number, if you want to be a part of this collection, is 31399-ashes, that's 313-992-7437. We're compiling all these into an awesome call-in show so we hope you'll be a part of that soon. Give us a call. And if you don't want to call in with us directly you can also follow all of our updates as well as im-portant news articles and hilarious memes on our favorite social media networks at ashesashescast.
[1:03:04] Or join our conversation directly in our beautiful chat room with an amazing Ashes community. You can find a link to that on the website, just go to ashesashes .org, click the Community button, find the link to the Discord and you will be all set. We hope to see you there. Next week we're back to a chat show and we hope you'll tune in for that. But until then, this is Ashes Ashes.