1960s >> 1962 >> no-698-october-1962

Lunacy: The Struggle for Space

A schoolboy fantasy is fast approaching realisation. There may be a man on the moon in the next three or four years if the latest Russian achievement is any indication. Recently two men—Major Nikolayev and Lt.-Colonel Popovich—were sent up within twenty-four hours of each other, about 150 miles above the earth.


“Quite fantastic,” said Sir Bernard Lovell. This man of science at Jodrell Bank was quick to point out the depth of Russian resources which must have been behind their double space shot, and there is general agreement that it brings a lunar expedition very much nearer. According to Colin Frame in the Evening News, the preliminary to a moon landing would be a space base assembled about 500 miles up, from which further rockets would be launched. Professor Lovell thinks that the Soviet experiment may well have this in view.


From the available evidence then, the Soviets seem still to hold the lead in this field, but it need not mean that they will continue to do so. President Kennedy has admitted that America does lag behind, but for some time now desperate efforts have been made to shorten the gap, and contracts have already been placed in connection with a future U.S. Moon Shot, estimated to cost $30 thousand millions. It makes nonsense incidentally, of the rather silly suggestion in the Evening News editorial that the American failure is because money has been diverted to other things more urgent, such as houses, roads, etc. In fact, the budget of the National Space and Aeronautics Administration has increased this year from $1,700 millions to $3,000 millions, and it has been said that none of its work in the space programme is hampered for lack of funds.


So the Russian advantage is a technical one, and this must be causing the American government some concern in more ways than one. It seems almost too obvious to say that this is a severely competitive world and the space race is no exception. Linked with it is the struggle for prestige between the two giants of capitalism, U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., and prestige means a lot when you are jostling for influence among the newly rising states.


Nor should we lose sight of another and much more sinister aspect which Sir Bernard Lovell himself has mentioned. Talking about the Soviet feat on August 13th, for example, he told reporters that “. . .  you cannot divide the military and peaceful significance.” And again, on August 15th, he spoke of the “. . . terrible avenue of the militarisation of space which is now obviously opening before our eyes.” In this respect, he was not concerned merely with the Russians, but was critical of their combined failure with U.S.A. to achieve “. . .  co-operation on a big scale . . .  to further the peaceful exploration of space.”


Yet it is precisely this peacefulness which is an impossibility in a private property set up. A mere absence of actual fighting does little to conceal [that] the vicious RAT Race in Space undertones working to another horror later on. Research into new weapons and perfection of the old are going on all the time, and it is futile for Professor Lovell to talk of peaceful co-operation when on his own admission there is really no such thing. And for all their talk, the actions of the U.S. and Russian governments show that they don’t believe it either. Both sides have been developing rockets capable of delivering nuclear warheads, and it is interesting also to see from The Guardian of 16/8/62 that twenty unidentified American satellites have been launched under military secrecy since last November. At least some of them have been designed for missile warning and reconnaissance work.


Indeed, Max Freedman put his finger on the sort of dilemma which confronts capitalist powers when he wrote:


  The Kennedy Administration is unshaken in its central belief that outer space should be reserved for peaceful purposes alone. But it is aware that it cannot allow Russia to achieve an acknowledged lead in outer space without running the risk that the U.S. one day may find itself at a formidable disadvantage in measuring its ultimate military power against the Soviet Arsenal.


Even Britain, barely an also ran in the race so far, is thinking of edging into it by way of a high performance aircraft capable of eventual orbit. The R.A.F. is said to be seeking support for such a programme and its possibility is being studied, according to Aviation Minister Julian Amery speaking at the Society of British Aircraft Constructors dinner in London last month.


What a prospect then, for the future! Maybe a man on the moon in three or four years and the certainty anyway of a frantic arms race pushing itself more and more into space. Already nuclear bombs have been exploded high above the earth’s atmosphere by both America and Russia, and Professor Lovell thinks that the Russians may well be able to shoot down American satellites. Incidentally, this sparked off an interesting but largely futile speculation in one newspaper on the legality of such action. Futile, because legality is just about the last thing capitalist powers will allow to stand in the way of their interests.


And then Soviet scientist Fyodorov innocently says: “There is room for everybody in space — and nobody need fight over it.” Well, don’t you believe it! Capitalist powers will fight over anything if they think their interests justify it. And these need not be only of a military nature. A new and specialised market is in prospect with the advent of space exploration. In Britain, for instance, eight large industrial firms have formed British Space Developments Ltd., and one of the backers, Sir Robert Renwick, believes that: ” . . . there is more money in space than ever dreamed of. The use of space in the next two decades will be a major key to continued prosperity.”


Having said all this, the outstanding thing to remember is the shocking wastefulness of it. This is not to decry space exploration as such. We might well have it under Socialism, though in its proper sequence of priority and in any case not for the destructive and harmful purposes behind today’s efforts. It was bitterly ironical that the latest Russian astronauts burst through the natural wall of gravity almost exactly one year after the building of the man-made wall across Berlin. But such incongruity probably never occurred to the flying young men Nikotayev and Popovich, or for that matter countless other people here on earth. And those who did notice it do not seem to have gone so far as to question the whole social system which can solve the tricky problems of space travel, but cannot even feed clothe and house most of its earthly population decently.


Eddie Critchfield