Shuttles and Jose

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Thu Feb 6 08:39:13 MST 2003

>>Comrade DA, I really wish you would settle down and stop trying to mark
territory. Instead, if you took the time and energy you've been using in
other endeavor to back up your arguments with hard facts I would be very
interested in what you have to say. This is an important topic. How involved
is the U.S. military in the space program, if more than just peripherally?
And more specifically, the shuttle part of the space program? <<


I don't think Armand is in a position to give you an answer, so I'll do so.

In addition to the civilian NASA program, the U.S. military has its own
"space program,"  as does corporate America, but it is a mistake to build a
huge wall between the three. All rely on overlapping companies,
technologies, facilities and to some extent leading personnel. There is a
military-industrial-space complex that is fed from different budgets and
whose program components focus on diffrerent core missions, but that whole
complex is still a very distinctive feature of American capitalism and a
very significant source of U.S. military (and other) capabilities.

The astronaut corps is largely drawn from the ranks of military aviators,
where the first batches came from 40-odd years ago, although NASA *today* is
very conscious of at least *projecting* a diverse astronaut corps, including
immigrants, minorities and women, and especially among those sorts of
astronauts you'll find many who are not from the armed forces. No openly gay
astronauts, though, that I know of.

Nevertheless, there is simply no evidence that the civilian government space
program is some sort of elaborate hoax, as depicted by Armand Diego, that
90% of the missions are really secretly military in nature, things like
that. The position that's been espoused is akin to those who took the movie
Capricorn One (about a faked NASA mission to Mars) as a veiled docudrama
rather than fiction and have been denouncing the fraud of the Apollo program
to the moon ever since.

Undoubtedly the results of a lot of the investigations that are being
carried out by NASA, if they come up with something, will be used by the
military, too. I hardly expect the Pentagon to insist on keeping the old
tech if NASA comes up with a better internal combusiton engine. But a lot of
it is perfectly valid and signigicant science or technological R&D. On a
mission like the recent one, NASA has its own sponsored investigation
(usually in conjunction with academics or its own research scientists),
there is a portion set aside for commercial entities, a portion set aside
for educational institutions, some for the European space agency, and so on.
There are often small parts of missions that are explicitly said to be
military research, and those you get very few details on. In the recent one,
for example, this involved firing the attitude thrusters with the shutle in
a certain position so it could be observed by some military satellite or
base -- I don't remember the details right now, if they were given. Between
that and some of the other payloads, you do get investigations whose
transcendental importance isn't that immediately obvious, like the ant
colony a bunch of high schoolers sent up on this shuttle.

NASA science folks smile sheepishly when you ask them about those parts of
the payload, but they'll tell you, in science new important discoveries
arise from unexpected directions, and anyways, if it helps fire enthusiasm
among the youth for science and engineering, that is a perfectly good and
valid thing for NASA to be trying to achieve. Some respected group of
screeners chose this particular proposal for the anthill, and since it takes
up only a tenth of a percent or something of the total payload and time, why
not? But they never, ever confess to also doing it to get the good press
that invariably results.

Now, is it several gizillion dollars worth of science all told? Are the
results obtained or likely to be obtained worth a cost of several billion
dollars a year, even if you assume the space station comes off without a
hitch and carries out these kinds of experiments for 10 or 15 more years
after completion? And was it worth those lives? There are tons of people,
informed people who are basically supporters of the space program and this
social system, who don't think so, who think the monetary costs and human
risk are disproportionate in the shuttle program and many also in the ISS.

The comrade who posted on the list who said it was a matter of imperialist
prestige or American prestige or something like that was, I think, generally
right. That was the overriding factor early on, the "space race" was big
during the cold war. Today, I think other factors also play a big role, like
pork-barrell politicking and horse trading, institutional inertia and
corporate "lobbying" (payoffs, really, in the form of campaign donations),
even the pressure of the academic and scientific community, most narrowly
and purely speaking, many of whom may not be huge fans of the shuttle
component of it but want a vigorous program of scientific exploration of

However, the current debate on this list I have been involved in hasn't been
about those sorts of issues AT ALL.

Rather, it started from my objections to the empty, ultraleft porturing of
Armand Diego and other latter-day morenistas (followers of Argentine
Trotskyist leader Nahuel Moreno, who was active from the 1940s until his
death in the 1980s). These morenistas were talking about how they celebrated
that these cowboys and imperialist agents having gotten themselves blown up,
what a wonderful thing it was, they lift their glasses of chardonnay in
celebration and so on.

I believe that is a fundamentally wrong political attitude and message. For
one thing, at the heart of marxism is the idea and sentiment of human

And these particular people, the shuttle crew, in my opinion were doing
something in which there was an element of nobility, a sense of purpose, of
doing something for a greater common good than yourself and satifying the
immediate impulse to consume, consume, consume which is constantly being
crammed down people's throats in American society. True, it was in the
framework of the space shuttle and NASA space program which itself is part
of the kinds of technology capacities the U.S. rulers use to try to dominate
and subjugate the world. But I don't believe NASA (the research it sponsors,
etc.) can simply be reduced to that, dismissed that easily. Just one
example: some of the most serious research being done on global warming is
being done by NASA scientists and others collaborating with them. And the
best data on global climactic conditions comes from their satellites.

Framing an appropriate, balanced, public commentary under these conditions
that takes all sides of it into account I think would take a great deal of

Because viewed objectively, if such a thing were possible, was the
scientific work this crew was part of, including the further development of
space flight, as important as they themselves and their colleagues in NASA
probably viewed it? I think we all know enough of human psychology to
understand that those things that are nearer to us loom larger than they
would if viewed from another perspective. Yet that is the view many people
will adopt just now under impact of the tragedy, and that will also blind
them to other sides of the question.

But despite the exaggeration, I believe yes, there were significant, valid,
important research and investigations being undertaken. (How important you'd
have to judge in each case based on truly expert knowlege in the given
field). That is true, even though most of the crew, except for the woman
from India, had come from the military, and even though the Israeli
astronaut in particular was a symbol of zionist colonization and direct
perpetrator of Israeli military attacks against Arabs. That is not what they
were doing on the shuttle, they weren't risking their lives to shoot down
kids in Gaza or anything like that.

Having adopted the infantile stance that these "agents of imperialism" had
gotten what was coming to them, and we should celebrate, Armand and his
friends had to justify it, precisely by depicting participating in this
shuttle mission as something like the equivalent of war crimes. That meant
denying any scientific or other validity to what the shuttle crew was doing,
and the easiest way to do that was to portray it as some sort of dastardly
fiendish plot to develop God knows what infernal engines of death for use by
the Pentagon.

I called them on it, and in typical fashion for their trotskyoid sect, they
responded with all sorts of bombast and claims that "most experts" say this
and 90 percent of the missions are that, and anyone who didn't agree with
them was adapting to imperialist pressure.

Having  met and worked with the real item (Moreno) in person, and having
dealt with them for more than a decade in the 1970's and early 1980's, I'll
confess to having come to some fairly harsh conclusions about this current
and especially their irresponsible claims, playing fast and loose with the
facts, pretending to be all sorts of things, like space experts, when in
reality they don't have a clue. I believe in some ways there is an element
of being political con men in their functioning, and I think this little
debate showed it.

Thus we've had the very amusing spectacle of Armand projecting himself as a
real hot shot space nerd while at the same time not realizing that
cosmonauts are the Russian space jockeys. Instead he's pontificating about
the American "cosmonauts" being imperialist military officers and so on. Or
insisting that if only I'd look up the members of NASA's board I'd see the
military in control, having probably half-heard something about Nasa's board
in the past few days (the "independent" one set up to investigate the
Columbia catastrophe) and thinking that was something like a corporate board
of directors that really ran the place.

And *those* claims he made trying to wiggle out of responsibility for the
original stuff about 90% of the most recent 50 missions being really
military, which I answered with a list of the most recent 20 and I didn't
throw the whole list of 50 in his face because it was, well, just too long
and repetitive.

I ALSO didn't throw on here the manifest for the 80-some experiments on this
mission, although I was tempted. I didn't just out of consideration for
Louis, really, because he's paying for all this nonsense being spread around
through emails out of his own pocket. So instead the first time I told the
morenistas to find it, the second time I gave them the direct download link
from NASA's web site, which, of course, Armand refused to look at,
dismissing it as NASA P.R.

That shows either his lack of seriousness or his bad faith, because
supposing Armand believed his claims to be true, he'd look at it, and try to
show how it was just a cover story made up out of whole cloth, or that by
carefully examining details and looking at these other facts you'd see the
ant experiment was really aimed at using them as carriers for some disease
to be used as a biological weapon or whatever the case may be.

Dismissing it unread, when you think about it, is simply a declaration
you're not going to engage in a debate around the issue. But he was already
engaged in such a debate. And so we got the latest round, where he demands
essentially that I prove his case for him, he doesn't need to, he's too much
of an expert to be bothered with such trivia as facts and documentation.

And so it ends.

I must confess that especially ater the first round, I did consciously bait
them, hoping that they would fal into a trap of their own making. And so
they have.

More generally, the typical method of this current is to adopt whatever
coloration is popular at the time. In this case they think --I'm not sure
how accurately-- that some layer of youth they're trying to appeal to will
react in this way to the tragedy. So they do, too. All the while they
project themselves as the biggest, hugest, most combative group, the baddest
Bolsheviks since Lenin died, and so on. This leads them to adventues like
the Simon Bolivar Brigade in Nicaragua, where a bunch of these sectarians
parachuted into the struggle at the last minute and after the victory, tried
to usurp the leadership of the revolution, as if the confidence of the
masses was something one could win as a door prize for showing up late, and
as interloping outsiders, to boot. The Sandinistas wound up having no choice
but to run them out of the country.

You can see this current in all their glory at their newspaper's web site, and for some amusement I'll reproduce the
blurb Armand sent out when he spammed God knows how many mail lists with the
"news" that they'd gotten it together to translate their paper (the
translation is below, I include the original Spanish so that anyone who has
the inclination to can verify its accuracy for themselves):

FRONTLINES es el periódico de izquierda de mayor
circulación en los EEUU con 60,000 lectores.
FRONTLINES es el más polémico de los periódicos
norteamericanos, oponiéndose a la guerra, organizando
entre los trabajadores, respetado en las comunidades
negra y latina, entre los jóvenes y estudiantes ...
Ahora en Español.

"Frontlines is the biggest circulation Left newspaper in the United States,
with 60,000 readers. Frontlines is the most controversial newspaper in the
U.S., opposing war, organizing among the workers. It is respected in the
Black and Latino community, among youth and students ... Now in Spanish."

Speaking now strictly on a factual plane, I suspect frontline is NOT the
biggest circulation newspaper on the left. I suspect War Times is seen more
widely. Further, having been intimately involved in circulating left
newspapers for many years, I suspect the 60,000 figure is, well, let's say,
a typo. Adding one zero, perhaps two. Inadvertently, I'm sure.

But even leaving aside all those claims, seriously, does anyone for a moment
believe there is an ounce of good faith or honesty in the Morenistas
claiming they have the most *controversial* paper in the country? Has anyone
heard or seen any controversy about them at all? Controversial, maybe ANSWER
or the Workers World comrades could make some claim in that field, but the
Morenista "Left Party"?

The idea is to project Frontline as the biggest thing on the U.S. Left since
Eugene V. Debs to spanish-speaking socialists, who may not know any better,
a typical morenista bit of posturing.

Like so many cults, they are also real fans of the Great Man theory of
history, as shown by their bio of Trotsky, where they blame his death for
having retarded the growth of Trotskyism by decades, compounded, of course,
by the nefarious role of intellectuals in the leadership of the FI after his

Ditto for that Lenin of our times, Nahuel Moreno, who is said to have built
a revolutionary party with more members than just about the entire
population of Argentina, or something, but unfortunately also died so the
party exploded into a million pieces and today the Argentine MAS has more
split-offs than it has members. As a result, I think the Argentine
Trotskyist family tree is probably one of the few that can rival the New
Communist Movement family tree the comrades from Freedom Road have up on
their web site.

Or look at their description of their own origins as the Left Party of the
United States. It was obviously a split, if you read between the lines, but
instead they portray it on their web site as some sort of fusion, although
the names of the *groups* they fused with aren't mentioned, or if they were,
they were so placed that I must have missed them.

One last point: you'll notice the subject header of the exchanges kept
changing. One effect is that in many mail reading programs, the thread gets
broken. Since we do not quote what was said before in the body of the
message, and Marxism is very high volume, following the thread, checking on
whether someone really said what the person claims his opponent said,
becomes quite a chore. I don't think experienced people change subject lines
when polemically replying to a post by accident.

Is this very minor? Yes. Am I being picky? Yes. But since Armand took the
care to do it, I thought I'd take equal care to explain its effect.


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