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Space War

Text : Alexandre St-Denis, Montreal

In the 16th century, Nostradamus predicted the wars of the 20th century. About 300 years later, Jules Vernes, in his famous novel From the Earth to the Moon, described his vision of the first voyages into outer space. With different degrees of precision, they both described events that would come to pass centuries later, but neither predicted how “space wars” would work. Nowadays, it’s quite easy to find depictions of what this type of war might look like. Films like Star Wars and popular television series like “Star Trek” have provided ideas that are distinct from one another, but still similar. But are they accurate in showing how these things will be carried out in real life? We don’t know how much longer humankind will survive, but it’s clear that as long as humans are around, we will try to explore outer space with methods that are increasingly rapid and simple. This desire brings about the following questions and issues: Will we become pacifistic and ecologically-minded? Which war will win out: the war in space or the war for space?

Becoming pacifistic would probably help us to avoid a space war, but it’s not likely that humankind will go in that direction, since it’s in our nature to destroy. Also, we must consider not only war between humans, but also that of humans against our environment. If the attacks on our own environment continue, the human species may not survive long enough to conquer space so as to be able to wage a war there. In a short interview with Cybersciences as part of the 12th International Weather Festival, astrophysicist Hubert Reeves declared that “Anyway, there are only two possible scenarios: either humans manage to control our influence, or we destroy ourselves.” The day may never come when we have sufficiently evolved and have made adequate technological advances.

Photo : NASA

In a series like “Star Trek,” human beings in the 24th century become pacifists once they establish contact with an intelligent extra-terrestrial species. They become conscious of the fragility of our species and stop destroying one another. This idealistic scenario encourages us to think about whether or not we might one day come into contact with such a species, and what effect it could have on humankind. This perspective allows for the possibility of a cosmic war, assuming that we are technologically advanced to have instruments of war that we can use in space. But the chances of a human being actually making contact with another intelligent species are practically nil if we are to believe Astronomie et Astrophysique, a book written by two Quebec scientists, Benoît Villeneuve and Marc Séguin. According to some calculations, the nearest planet that’s comparable to ours and that supports life would be 30 million billion light-years away. If this were true, we don’t run much risk of having contact with another intelligent species, since they would all be out of reach.

Photo : NASA

What elements, in this case, would be the most likely to cause a war in space? If the human species survives long enough to see a reasonably advanced era of space exploration, things will probably play out mostly on a political level. In the 1960s, the Cold War was waged in outer space between the two major powers of the times, the USSR and the United States. Each wanted to surpass the other in terms of space “conquest.” Nowadays, the United States is the leader in terms of space exploration. Mir Space Station, which was taken out of orbit on March 23, 2002, was in some ways the last symbol of Soviet power in space. But is the competition really over? The International Space Station (ISS), currently under construction, features the participation of more than 16 countries, and is already running into some problems.

The United States, the main investors in the project, recently had to halt the construction of a vehicle and two station modules due to the lack of a NASA budget. Without these three elements, the time share that each country can spend inside the station once it’s completed will be greatly reduced. Unless a solution is found for the problem, this could become a source of friction between the various participants in the project.

The beginning of an era of international space cooperation is not without its difficulties, and it’s easy to imagine future problems between the two modern enemies: the United States and the rest of the world. In the very long term, these problems could become the elements that eventually start cosmic wars. On the other hand, if the United States continues to enjoy its status of supremacy in space exploration, there may be less risk of such off-Earth conflicts. However, future human colonies on planets such as Mars could become exclusively American, and thus reflect the future of our species. It’s enough to cause nightmares for some