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U.S. eyes space as possible battleground


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President George W. Bush's plan to expand the exploration of space parallelsvate Center for Defense Information said the capabilities to conduct space warfare would move out of the realm of science fiction and into reality over the next 20 years or so.

"At the end of the day it will be political choices by governments, not technology, that determines if the nearly 50- year taboo against arming the heavens remains in place," she concluded in a recent study.

Outlining his election-year vision for space exploration last week, Bush called for a permanent base on the moon by 2020 as a launch pad for piloted missions to Mars and beyond.

One unspoken motivation may have been China's milestone launch in October of its first piloted spaceflight in earth orbit and its announced plan to go to the moon.

"I think the new initiative is driven by a desire to beat the Chinese to the moon," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and space policy research group.

Among companies that could cash in on Bush's space plans are Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., which do big business with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well as with the Pentagon.

The moon, scientists have said, is a source of potentially unlimited energy in the form of the helium 3 isotope -- a near perfect fuel source: potent, nonpolluting and causing virtually no radioactive byproduct in a fusion reactor.

"And if we could get a monopoly on that, we wouldn't have to worry about the Saudis and we could basically tell everybody what the price of energy was going to be," said Pike.

Gerald Kulcinski of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison estimated the moon's helium 3 would have a cash value agon's Missile Defense Agency obtained $14 million for research on basing three or more missile interceptors in space by the end of the decade for tests.

The plan would field satellites armed with multiple "hit-to-kill" interceptors capable of destroying a ballistic missile through a high-speed collision shortly after its launch, according to Wade Boese, research director of the private Arms Control Association. Such a system could also function as an anti-satellite weapon.

No decision has been made yet to deploy space-based interceptors as part of the U.S. missile defense program "although we are conducting research and development activities in that area," a Defense Department official said Friday.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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