George W. Bush is playing with fire. He is expected to soon make a major space policy announcement that could include a return mission to the moon, the establishment of permanent bases on the moon, and an aggressive program to take humans to Mars. Estimates for these space projects range from $50 – $150 billion. That is of course before cost overruns set in.

In order to make the trip to Mars feasible (the normal year-long trip would take a toll on any human being because of space radiation) Bush is expected to commit to using a nuclear rocket – what is now known as “Project Prometheus,” named after the God of Fire. The nuclear rocket would cut in half the amount of time it would take to get to Mars, and would have military applications as well. The Bush administration a year ago announced the Nuclear Systems Initiative, a $3 billion research and development effort to expand the number of launches of deadly nuclear powered systems into space.


One scientist who has publicly expressed grave concern about the Nuclear Systems Initiative is Dr. Michio Kaku, Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the CUNY Graduate Center. According to Dr. Kaku, “The exploration of outer space is indeed one of humanity’s great adventures. Perhaps one of the greatest risks facing this ambitious program is the use of dangerous, unproven technologies which could backfire, eroding public confidence in the space program.”

“One such dangerous technology is the nuclear rocket, which is nowseriously being reconsidered after being rightly rejected for the past several decades. The recent disaster involving the Columbia shuttle crew was bad enough. If it had contained a nuclear rocket, it would have been the death blow to the space program. Having radioactive uranium reactor parts sprayed over Texas and much of the southwest would have doomed the entire space program. The nuclear booster rocket has gone through many stages of development in the past, and all of them have been cancelled with good cause.”


The U.S. never signed the 1979 Moon Treaty that was created at the United Nations to prevent a rush of land claims and military bases on the planetary body. In fact, in a 1959 U.S. Army study entitled “The Establishment of a Lunar Outpost” the once secret plan stated that “The lunar outpost is required to develop and protect potential U.S. interests on the moon; to develop techniques in moon-based surveillance of the earth and space…to serve as a base for exploration of the moon, for further exploration into space and for military operations on the moon if required.” The Army study went on to conclude that with U.S. bases on the moon the U.S. could “extend and improve space reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities and control of space.”

Scientists have discovered valuable resources on the moon including helium 3, a fuel that is seen as a replacement for the dwindling supply of fossil fuels back here on Earth. In a New York Times op-ed, written by science writer Lawrence Joseph in 1995, he says that “If we ignore the potentialof this remarkable fuel; the nation could slip behind in the race for control of the global economy, and our destiny beyond.” In the piece Joseph asks, “Will the moon become the Persian Gulf of the 21st Century?”

Again in a New York Times op-ed piece called “A New Pathway to the Stars,”space writer Timothy Ferris wrote on December 21, 2003 that “Another possible energy source of the future – nuclear fusion reactors burning clean, safe helium 3 – has its own lunar connection. Helium 3, rare on Earth, is abundant on the moon. When fusion reactors start coming on line, lunar entrepreneurs may stand to make the kind of money their predecessors raked in during the gold rush and the oil boom.”

Harrison Schmitt, the former Apollo astronaut who also served a term as U.S. Senator from New Mexico, is not ignoring the issue. In an op-ed published in the aerospace industry publication Space News entitled, “The Moon Treaty: Not a Wise Idea,” Schmitt stated “The mandate of an international treaty regime would complicate private commercial efforts >and give other countries political control over the permissibility, timing and management of all private commercial activities…The strong prohibition on ownership of ‘natural resources’ also causes worry.”

The ideas of U.S. control of the moon have interesting origins. In the book Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, author Jack Manno told the story of former Nazi Maj. Gen. Walter Dornberger (the man who recruited Werner Von Braun to come to work for Hitler to build the V-1 and V-2 rockets.)

After the end of World War II the U.S. military recruited Von Braun and 1,500 other Nazi scientists to come to the U.S. under the top secret Operation Paper Clip. Von Braun, along with Dornberger and 100 others from the German rocket team, were brought to create the U.S. space program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Dornberger eventually became a Bell Aviation Corporation Vice-President and helped the company make enormous profit building helicopters for the war effort in Vietnam.

Before a congressional hearing in 1958, Dornberger insisted that America’s top space priority out to be to “conquer, occupy, keep and utilize space between the Earth and the moon.”

Interestingly enough this same theme reemerged in a 1989 study written forthe U.S. Congress by John Collins. The study, published in book form was called Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years and the forward to the book was signed by seven leading political leaders at the time including Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Congressional staffer Collins reported that the U.S. would need to have military bases on the moon in order to control the pathway, or “gravity well,” between the Earth and moon. “Military space forces at the bottom of Earth’s so-called gravity well are poorly positioned to accomplish offensive/defensive/deterrent missions, because great energy is needed to overcome gravity during launch. Forces at the top, on a space counterpart of ‘high ground,’ could initiate action and detect, identify, track, intercept, or otherwise respond more rapidly to attacks.” Collins went on to conclude that with U.S. bases on the moon, “Armed forces might lie in wait at that location to hijack rival shipments on return.” Obviously the author was envisioning the day when aerospace corporations would be hard >at work “mining the sky” for profit.


The Bush administration and his aerospace allies have been in a state of despair ever since China launched her first man into space in 2003. China has also publicly proclaimed that they hope to send a man to the moon in the near future. Imagine if some other nation, besides the U.S., was able to set up bases and mining colonies on the moon or began mining gold from asteroids. This would never be allowed.

Within hours after Chinese “taikonaut” Yang Liwei made his historic venture into space, the U.S. military was warning of severe consequences. Speaking at a space conference, Lt. Gen. Edward Anderson, deputy Commander of U.S. Northern Command, told the assembled that, “In my view it will not be long before space becomes a battleground.”

Speaking at the same conference, Rich Haver, Vice-President for intelligence strategy at Northrup Grumman Corporation, responding to a question about the implications of China’s space voyage said, “I think the Chinese are telling us they’re there, and I think if we ever wind up in a confrontation again with any one of the major powers who has a space capability we will find space is a battleground.”


The prospects for eventual profit and control of the new space frontier are too high to be left to chance. Clearly, since the end of World War II, the U.S. military has been planning and is now vigorously developing space technologies that will give them control of the pathways on and off the planet Earth.

Just as the Spanish Armada and British Navy were created to protect the “interests and investments” in the new world, space is viewed today as open territory to be seized for eventual corporate profit.

The United Nations, to their credit, created the Moon Treaty and the Outer Space Treaty as ways to circumvent the warlike tendencies of humankind as we step out into the cosmos. These treaties hoped to ensure that conflict over “national appropriation” of the planetary bodies could be avoided. Maybe for once earthlings could join hands as we launched into space and explored the heavens for the good of all humankind.

The U.S. appears to be heading in the direction of creating enormous danger and conflict with the current Nuclear Systems Initiative that will expand nuclear power and weapons into space – all disguised as the noble effort to hunt for the “origins of life” in space. Only a lively and growing global debate about the ethics and morality of current space policy will save us from lighting the harsh fires of Prometheus in the heavens.

*Bruce K. Gagnon Coordinator Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.