By Yoichi Clark Shimatsu
Pacific News Service
February 3, 2003
NASA is not simply a civilian space agency devoted to the high-minded
cause of scientific discovery. The agency that originated as an
of the Air Force has persisted in its often-disguised mission of
research. Columbia's tragic last mission was no exception, and was
watched keenly by much of the world precisely because of its
and military significance.
Columbia's countdown to launch saw unprecedented security measures
that included machine gun-toting guards eyeballing and body-searching
NASA engineers and visiting dignitaries. NASA acknowledged that such
measures where more than post-9/11 caution and were due to the
presence of astronaut and Israeli Air Force pilot Col. Ilan Ramon.
Ramon was a living symbol of Israeli-American aerospace cooperation,
which has included the Arrow interception technology incorporated into
Patriot missiles (used in the Gulf War) and the sale of U.S.-built F-16s
and helicopter gunships sent by the Ariel Sharon government to attack
Palestinian villages in the West Bank.
Ramon was no bystander in the Mideast conflict. He received flight
training at a U.S. Air Force base in Utah in the 1970s, became a pilot
the Israeli Air Force and was part of an Israeli bombing mission that
destroyed an Iraqi nuclear power plant in 1986.
His military role aboard Columbia went beyond symbolic value. Ramon's
research mission involved dual-use technology, an Israeli-built
multi-spectral camera that probes the effect of sandstorms on climate
change. The all-weather camera is also a key technology for military spy
satellites and unmanned drones searching for targets obscured by dust,
smoke and clouds. These murky atmospheric conditions exactly fit the
scenario of the looming war against Iraq.
Israel is midway through a drive to establish a space program, much of
devoted to military purposes. So is India, the birthplace of the other
"international" astronaut, Kalpana Chowla. Her research background in
robotics and aerodynamics are also of direct interest to weapons
designers. Her notable achievement was to design systems to control air
turbulence during landing, a serious problem for vertical-landing
such as the Harrier fighter or the accident-prone Osprey hybrid
Images of an Israeli pilot and an Indian-born civilian engineer drifting
weightlessly alongside the other crewmembers from the U.S. military
were interpreted as a threat across much of South Asia and the Middle
East. In Kashmir, torn by a Muslim insurgency against Indian rule since
1947, the three partner countries India, Israel and the U.S. are
referred to as "The Nexus." The connection goes back to Israeli
instructors who have been training Indian troops to suppress the Muslim
majority population in Kashmir using the brutal methods tested in the
Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel provides intelligence and military training in exchange for
Israeli Air Force use of airfields in Srinagar and Jammu, the twin
of Kashmir. These airfields are within close striking range of
nuclear facilities, the production centers of the so-called "Islamic
Not by coincidence, India is also building a military-oriented space
program to gain the upper hand against its regional rival Pakistan.
The United States joined The Nexus in the late 1990s, when the Clinton
administration promised to lift sanctions on weapons sales to India, a
nuclear power that refuses to sign on to the nuclear non-proliferation
treaty. The Bush White House has been shifting U.S. space research
toward the overarching goal of national missile defense, a plan that
including Russia and China say will lead to an arms race in space
throughout the 21st century. The Bush proposal to load high-powered
lasers, signal-jamming devices and electromagnetic-pulse weapons aboard
orbiting platforms has met with resistance inside the United Nations
because existing international treaties forbid the militarization of
The Nexus' ambitions to militarize space converged aboard the Columbia.
In the near future, the Nexus' drive to achieve dominance over outer
space means that NASA flights and satellite launches could soon become
fair game for counterattacks by victimized communities and neighboring
countries living under the threat of space weaponry. A line of code
slipped past software firewalls or a jammed radio signal can take down
these sensitive spacecraft. As science fiction tells us, technology-rich
powers can't always win the star wars.
Yoichi Clark Shimatsu, a former editor of The Japan Times Weekly in
Tokyo, has reported on the Kashmir crisis.
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
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