by Trowbridge H. Ford
In the development of space, the problem was always making weapons bigger, whether it was a question of jet propulsion, missiles, satellites, shuttles, pay loads, intelligence-collecting instruments, protective devices, renewable vehicles, and the like. The source of the difficulty, of course, was gravity, and the atmosphere of gases it kept around the globe - what made it so difficult, expensive, and unpredictable about sending anything into space, much less getting it back in the hope of using it yet again. The process was so complicated, expensive and hazardous that almost nothing was produced in any aspect of the field without fits and starts of all kinds before anything significant was accomplished.
Just look at the history of missiles themselves. It was only after the Soviet Union had survived its terrible war with the Nazis that it seriously got involved in these matters, and only then because it feared being left behind as its Anglo-American allies threatened to steal a march on it. In November 1945, shortly after Washington had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war with the Japanese, the Soviets announced a new Five-Year-Plan during the implementation of which they planned to catch up with the West on all fronts, especially the use of atomic energy for domestic and national security purposes. While the Politburo blamed its backwardness in these area upon the devastating losses incurred during the war, its lack of trust in its scientific community developing these capacities was just as much the cause.
Whether one looks into the development of nuclear energy, missiles, jet propulsion or radar, the Russians had had the potential to be in the forefront of their use if it had not be for its political difficulties - the Russian Revolution, its civil war, Stalin's consolidation of power, and the purges. Vladimir Vernadsky, a Russian mineralogist, was one of the first scientists to see the potential of the Cures' discovery of new elements, polonium and radium which was many million times more radio-active than uranium. He called in December 1910 for, as David Holloway has written in Stalin and the Bomb, a revolution in society through the use of atomic energy comparable to what steam and the railway had achieved during the industrial revolution. "He believed in science as a force for civilization and democracy, and wanted the Russian scientific community to make its voice heard on important matters of the day." (p. 30) Unfortunately, this did not occur, thanks primarily to the Great War and the Russian Revolution.
Political interference plagued similarly Russian development of missiles, radar and jets. It was only the fear of Washington and London getting ahead in developing missiles, thanks to the input by sciencists like Werner von Braun and Hermann Oberth, that Stalin finally permitted "...the Research Institute of the Academy of Artillery Sciences to investigate the design of multi-stage, long-range, liquid-fuel rockets" (p. 250) - what Russian pioneer rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had recommended without much success during the early 1930s for the exploration of outer space. In fact, the emphasis on tactical rockets - what did lead to the development of 'Katiusha' rocket artilllery - so inferred with the basic research that A. M. Liul'ka was conducting durng the late '30s into jet aircraft that the Russians had to rely upon captured German aircraft during WWII to catch up in the field. Soviet radar development was similarly hurt by political interference during Stalin's purges, forcing Moscow to rely upon radars supplied from the West under Lend-Lease during the war.
The biggest cause in tipping the balance between the Soviet state and science back in its direction was the result of KGB spying, starting with that of Peter Wright apparently aka SCOTT, 'K' and HUNT. (See my articles about him, Vasili Mitrokhin, and Christopher Andrew in the archive.) Wright proved his value not only by providing intelligence about how to build an atomic weapon and that the Anglo-Americans were busily occupied in doing so but also vital, personal information about demagnetizing ships - what was essential if the USSR was ever to have the means of surviving the German onslaught. Wright's information about how to demagnetize the Northern Fleet - what Moscow received in February 1943 - was given a higher priority than the materials he provided about the West's making the bomb as Igor Kurchatov, the father of the Soviet bomb, only gave this assessment of them - "Wonderful materials," he told Molotov, "they fill in just what we are lacking" (Quoted from p. 95.), after he had returned from a trip to Murmansk to introduce steps to save its ships from German torpedoes.
While Washington and London were also playing catch-up in these fields, they had the decided advantage that their own territory was not being fought over, was providing a sanctuary for many talented scientists from Nazi persecution, and provided the wherewithall to win the war, thanks especially to the contributions by the Soviets. Albert Einstein, for example, alerted FDR not only to the prospect of the Germans building atomic weapons but also emigrated to America to help make sure that it had them first. German scientists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch, refugees working at the University of Birmingham, established that a 5-kilogram bomb of pure uranium-235 could be built which would have the destructive capability of several thousand tons of dynamite. Italian Enrico Fermi, who fled to New York because of the fascist threats against his Jewish wife, became the leading light in how to trigger fission and fusion aka chain reactions. Dane Neils Bohr determined that fission only occurred with slow neutrons in uranium-235 rather than in the much more common isotope, uranium-238, leading to the discovery of the importance of plutonium in the process.
After the defeat of the Axis powers, and the Cold War began in earnest, each side in the struggle tried to get the most out of these weapons systems, concentrating, of course, on what it was best at. The Americans and British concentrated on building up their sigint capability since gathering human intelligence in the Soviet bloc became increasingly difficult while the Soviets continued to take advantage of the West's numerous spies it was able to recruit. The Americans used their superiority in aircraft and radar to probe for Soviet weaknesses while Moscow concentrated on catching up in the nuclear field, and moving ahead in missiles with what the Germans had accomplished. While the US Air Force's overflights of the USSR by its RB-47s aka the Strato-Spy, its high-flying U-2s, and its super-fast SR-71 Blackbirds became legendary, the Soviet efforts to put a satellite in space, Sputnik, completely upstaged what the Americans had been doing, and Eisenhower had planned in this regard for the Geo-Physical Year. After several attempts, a three-stage R-7 rocket was able to put the satellite in space on October 4, 1957. It collected mostly scientific information, and functioned for 22 days, finally burning up four months later in the earth's atmosphere.
Of course, this caused America's National Security Agency (NSA) to panic over how it was collecting intelligence around the world. Starting then, NSA, as James Bamford has written in Body of Secret: How America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ Eavesdrop on the World, "...has moved non stop toward space." (p.466) The biggest problem was that it had no such vehicle for putting any satellite in orbit in space. Until then, America had believed that nuclear power was the way to the future, whether one was was thinking of air, sea or land travel. The only trouble with nuclear reactors powering planes, ships and trains was accidents, whether they were caused by some internal malfunction or crash. There would then be quite likely some kind of fireball and perhaps a nuclear explosion. As a result, Washington only allowed its newest warships and submarines to be nuclear powered, knowing if their reactors were punctured, the ships would be finished anyway.
Eisenhower's chief intelligence adviser James R. Killian, Jr., recommended in response to Sputnik a system of six balloons around the globe, 14 miles in space, for eavesdropping upon Soviet missile firings. In testing such possible eavesdropping on the Soviets, NSA detonated a chemical bomb over Shreveport, Louisiana in the hope the resulting electron cloud would redirect TV signals to where they could be collected. In doing so, NSA failed to notify the residents around the town of the test, and that the resulting cesium nitrate was hazardous to eyes and skin, and if inhaled, the person should seek medical attention. (pp. 360-1)
NSA's other attempts to intercept Soviet communications proved most justified when Washington learned that Yuri Garagin had finally orbited the globe on April 12, 1961, thanks to the powerful Vostok 1 rocket which sent it in orbit after several failed tests. While the agency was most pleased by what it heard, Washington itself was panicked by what the Soviets were achieving, especially in light of its continuing inability to achieve anything significant with its own rockets. The result was the hurried lift off of astronaut John Glenn in the space shuttle from Cape Canaveral, Florida the following February in the hope of giving world opinion the false impression that America was still ahead in the space race.
If the mission had failed, the Joint Chief of Staff, headed by Army General Lyman Lemnitzer, were planning to use Glenn's demise as a pretext for war with Castro's Cuba, claiming that its interference with the shuttle's communications had been responsible (Operation Northwoods). Even so, they wanted to instigate all kinds of 'false flag' operations - e.g., terrorist attacks on various American cities, mock assassinations of anti-Castro Cubans, fake evidence that Castro was exporting his revolution to other Caribbean countries, etc. - to make it seem that the Cubans were on the move instead of the Americans. While these steps were not agreed to, there were vestiges of them occurring during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the JFK assassination, and found new life when the Tonkin Gulf incidents occurred, resulting in America's invasion of South Vietnam in order to prevent it from falling to the communists.
When this effort too failed, Washington and Moscow finally seemed to have reached some kind of parity in the arms race, resigned to the conclusion that any serious conflict would lead to mutually assurred destruction (MAD) of both sides, and took steps to stop further strategic missile construction (SALT I) - what would otherwise have become, Nixon explained, "...a defensive arms race, with untold billions of dollars being spent on each side." (Quoted from Christopher Andrew, For the President's Eyes Only, p. 384.) The biggest problem with SALT I was that it was followed by the Watergate scandal - what created such blood-letting in agencies, and of personnel that it rendered the agreement worse than useless. CIA, NSA, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) were so angered by the loss of agents and their missions because of it that they conspired to bring down President Carter.
All these agencies had been severely hurt by the revelations surrounding Watergate, especially the investigation carried out by the Church Committee in the Senate. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was strengthened considerably, making it more difficult for covert agencies to cover up what they had been doing. "The CIA would spend the next two decades," Angus Mackenzie wrote in Secrets: The CIA's War at Home, "fighting the release of documents who requested them under the FOIA." (p. 61) Congress also passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which prevented NSA from collecting wholesale, warrantless wiretapes, and the compiling of abitrary watch lists of Amercans to be on the lookout for. NSA's lack of congresssional oversight had apparently come to a screeching halt.
Once the Reagan administration had settled into office, thanks to the 'October Surprise' that key covert operators, particularly Republican Party Vice-Presidential candidate G.H. W. Bush, had arranged with the Iranians for the release for the U´S hostages in Tehran only after the November election, and had gotten a grip on what foreign policy it wanted - a process which required getting rid of Nixon loyalist, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig - the President himself finally became engaged in the conduct of his office. No sooner did he get wind of what Haig aide Robert 'Bud' McFarlane had in mind with a Strategic Defense Initiative (STI) - a shield to protect America from all incoming Soviet ICBMs - than he ran with it as hard as he could.
"Missile defense," Lou Cannon recounted in his biography of President Reagan, "meant research into space-based chemical lasers, ground-based lasers with space-based mirrors, nuclear-pumped X-ray lasers, space-based particle beams, and space based kinetic-energy weapons such as 'smart rocks' (later 'brillant pebbles') and microwave generators." (p. 281) This was no bargaining chip with the Soviets, as McFarlane had envisioned, but a strategic, technological challenge to bring the Soviets to their knees without Armageddon. Of course, the program - which would cost $60 billion before it was over - was a bonanza for NSA and its satellite construction agency, the NRO.
What was then organized to accomplish these results, what was attempted, and what was achieved are anyone's guess, as the US and British governments have been most tight-lipped about matters, thanks especially to the secrecy contracts muzzling those involved that Bush started when he was the Agency's DCI under President Ford, and Thatcher achieved by tightening up the Official Secrets Acts. Bush had originally lobbied for imprisoning journalists and government employees who identified secret agents, settling instead of a system of contracts by employees which prevented journalists from learning much of any importance, especially about SDI. Congress had completely caved into the President about releasing anything contrary to his wishes. And Thatcher's actions in this regard are notorious, going beserk when Duncan Campbell tried to expose anything about Britain's involvement in the program. (See, e. g., Mark Urban's discussion of the Zircon affair in UK Eyes Alpha, p. 56ff.)
The organizing of SDI, and arranging for its goals to be met were essentially left to the officials immediately responsible for its bits and pieces, and to the private firms doing most of the work. Here we are talking about giant weapons complexes like Lockheed, Martin Marietta, TRW, Raytheon, GEC's various Marconi weapons firms, Plessey, British Aero-Space, etc., and the officials at NSA, and NRO, and Britain's Ministry of Defence, and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Whatever they agreed to was funded without any questions asked or answered. British scientists were brought into the process on a bilateral basis without their having a clue about what was really going on, explaining why many of them resorted to suicide when they discovered what was really going on. (See my articles about it, and MI6's attempts to cover it up at Soviet expense in the archive.)
In fact, the cover up of the whole process was so effective that biographers and historians involved in writing about it rarely say anything significant. If you are looking for any help, for example, about what SDI actually did from Reagan biographer, Lou Cannon, he says nothing about it, only Reagan's negotiations with Gorbachev to scale it back, or stop it. (p. 671ff.) "The notion of Britain becoming a player in the same league," Mark Urban concluded cryptically, "lasted only from 1983 to 1987, in the shape of the ZIRCON project." (p. 292) Other authors prefer to talk about scalar efforts to heat up the skies for various protagonists, based upon Nikola Tesla's technologies, rather than those to control small atomic and thermonuclear explosions to blow up things in space and on the ground.
Given the order in which Cannon listed SDI research, the first laser to be developed was a chemical fission one, often aka Mid-Infrared-Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) , similar in construction to a rocket engine. In the reactor, a fuel is burned, usually with nitrogen trifluoride, the resulting excited fluorine atoms from the conductor are then injected with deuterium helium, creating deuterium fluoride (DF) molecules, while surrounding helium ones stabilize the reaction, and control the temperature. Resonator mirrors are wrapped around the gas, and optical energy is extracted in a cooled cavity until the fuel supply is exhausted. The lasers' output can be varied greatly by changing flows, and altering the composition of the fuel. This laser can send a beam 21cm high and 3 cm wide - what can be shaped into one about 14 cm square which is then sent through the rest of the beam train. The maximum duration of the beam it propagates is about 70 seconds.
Then there are nuclear-pumped lasers which exploit the energy of fission fragments. The lasing medium is enclosed in a tube lined usually with U-235, and subjected to a high neutron flux in a nuclear reactor core. The uranium of the fission fragments creates an excited plasma with an inverse population of energy levels, which then lases. The big problem is keeping the plasma fuel, which is now millions of degrees hot, contained so that it can initiate the reaction - what is usually obtained by the use of a magnetic field The Helium-Argon laser uses a Helium(n,p) Hydrogen reaction, the transmutation of the Helium-3 resulting in a neutron flux, as the energy source, or employing the energy levels of the accompanying alpha particles.
Their advantages are that they produce far less harzardous waste than fission ones, and when deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen which can be readily separated from water, is used instead of uranium, the laser is far cheaper to operate.
Then there are Inertial Confinement fusion lasers where tiny pellets of tritium or deuterium are bombarded from several directions by a pulsed laser bean, causing the pellets to implode, setting off a thermonuclear reaction that ignites the fuel.
Once these lasers, especially chemical ones, were reduced in size and especially weight so that they could be lifted into space in the appropriate satellites - what also required the missiles employed, particularly the Titan ones, becoming much more powerful, they were sent into space, but still no one was sure what they could do, once there. Then there were problems getting the lasers going, once they were in space. The failure of the KH-11 satellite to start operating in late summer 1985, amd the shuttle Challenger blowing up the following January 1986 as NASA struggled hurriedly to put up a replacement readily come to mind in these regards.
By the time NASA finally achieved the desired position for a KH-ll satellite in 1987 to attempt the job, it no longer had any possible targets to destroy. Reagan and Gorbachev were now in the process of settling all their outstanding difference, starting with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the prospect of ending further research on SDI, though the American President was still holding to his vow that it was still no "bargaining chip". (Cannon, p. 702)
When the first Gulf War became increasingly likely, though, now President G.H.W. Bush decided to use the KH-11's laser capability on Iran to see if it could help prevent Iran from coming to Saddam Hussein' s assistance during the showdown. The laser was beamed on targets in northern Iran - not in northern China as I have wrongly stated in my glimpse at how America causes earthquakes - and on June 20, 1990, a severe one occurred - what Professor Shou was able to predict from China because of the vast cloud it had produced before the quake occurred. Then Clinton used it or a more powerful replacement in 1999 against Turkey because of the trouble it was causing in getting rid of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, and establishing Kosovo's independence. President G. W. Bush used similar lasers against the ancient Iranian city of Bam in 2003 because of the difficulty Tehran was apparently causing in pacifying Iraq, and then the next year it was Pakistan's North-West territories' turn, thanks to its incapacity to root out Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies.
The source of all the clouds which Professor Shou saw, and led him to predict the four earthquakes was the water the lasers evaporated, apparently all from underground qanats, causing them to collapse, and the surrounding territory to move a few meters - resulting in most unprecedented devastation.
With this most covert program operating so unexpectedly well, little wonder that NSA and the NRO have kept the program going, no matter what Congress funds or the White House approves. When G. W. became President, the NRO was so well-heeled that it even built its own new headquarters without congressional approval or funding. While one cannot even be sure that the latest one in the Misty series - the 10-ton USA 193 which was launched in December 2006 - received any responsible approval, it hardly bothered anyone when it failed to function from the outset. No one apparently had ever thought of one of these flying nuclear reactors crashing. The problem had always been to get them somehow into space.
It was only when the Misty's falling down into the atmosphere, and then burning up became a matter of a few months that serious attention was given to what its heady mixture - 10,000 lbs.of unspent fuel, hadrazine, a satellite made of all kinds of rare and easily converted into something else metals, and a nuclear-pumped laser, fully equipped with some kind of deuterium fuel - might cause. Far too little research has been done on nuclear reactors, even fission ones, much less thermonuclear ones, when their fuel melts, in full or in part.
A French series of tests in Cadarache only recently determined what happens when a fission reactor experiences a serious accident, resulting in the degradation of its fuel, and the production of hydrogen. The most serious findings were that the degradation occurred at several hundred degrees lower than the 2,500 degrees C. expected, and the amount of hydrogen given off had been seriously underestimated.
All of this, I think, explains why American officialdom has been so curt, contradictory, and confused about the problem. It simply doesn't know what will happen if the Misty satellite crashes, or it somehow destroys it or causes it to be knocked down. A natural burn-up might cause unspeakable damage of either an atomic or thermonuclear character. And simply shooting it down might just insure what the Americans are hoping desperately to avoid. This is why it is apparently planning to have a Navy SM-3 missile put a "kinetic kill vehicle" - a non explosive device - in its way, hoping that it will cause it to crash much more quickly. This way the chance of any kind of explosion will be reduced.
This helps explain why Pentagon spokesmen have made such inaccurate, contradictory statements about the hydrazine on board, vastly understating the amount, and the consequences if it is released into the atmosphere. A shootdown of the Misty might well start a chain-reaction, triggered by its 10,000 lbs.of it somehow igniting. No one knows for sure that it is frozen solid, given the laser on board, and a shootdown might be like putting a match to a tinderbox.
By knocking it down, the hadrazine and the other bits are more likely to burn up separately. Unlike the citizens of Shreveport, Louisiana back in the 'fifties, though, the cizitens of Hawaii and North America have certainly been put on notice to look out for drops of hydrazine in their eyes and on their skin, and advised to see a doctor immediately. Those hit by solid pieces or anything else will probably not need bother.
The US government is resigned to take this risk rather than reveal to all what it has been doing in space since SDI was started 25 years ago. Attempting to shoot the satellite down, and most likely missing would also show to the Russians and the Chinese that its ability to shoot down incoming missiles has been exaggerated. With an attempted knock-down, Washington can always claim that it was only a one-off which no one had even planned for.