Pluto, Iran & Our Future, Colltalers
More than mere date coincidence, there are a few connections between the New Horizons probe that has just visited Pluto, and the nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of six U.S.-led nations, and that’s is beside the fact that both impressed the world.
The very origin of the space program, the satellite’s use of plutonium as a fuel, the fact that congress has a way of picking budget priorities, concerning NASA and the weapons industry, and a basketful of issues related to world domination all come to mind.
The U.S. space program, regardless its noble intent and benefits to humanity, was born at end of WWII and the dawn of the nuclear age, out of the need to build better weapons. Given the A-Bomb’s breathtakingly tragic ‘success,’ it was soon off to the races.
And a race it became, not at all coincidentally, when the Soviet Union forcibly crashed the nuclear club of one, and began making both rockets and warheads, whose technology also served its own space program. Again, for all Cold War’s nefarious by-products, and the inextricably link between space and the weapons programs, going to orbit was clearly the nobler pursuit by both nations.
Seven decades later, a spacecraft traveling too far from the Sun needs to rely on sources of energy other than solar power. In the case of New Horizons, as in others, that was the radioactive isotope plutonium-238, which is created from uranium-238, and after it decays into neptunium-238. It’s used for thermal power for its relative low cost. But you could’ve read this all on Wikipedia.
Two important things to note, though: first, solar cells technology was developed with the space program, and it’s one of its earliest application for energy, even when other sources are available. Second, you probably noticed how the very name of those nuclear-derived elements are based on the name of planets, right? Enough said.
Completely unlike any weapons program on the Defense Department’s menu, NASA is used to fight tooth and nail to get a decent budget. The New Horizons is called the little spacecraft that could, and did, because it almost never left the ground, due to budget constrains. Specially now, when a particularly science-averse crop of congressmen is bent on nay-saying funding for science.
NASA itself has evolved from a celebrated agency, popular with the masses during the 1960s and its culmination, the man on the Moon program, to a lower-standard pragmatism of prioritizing projects that could be more easily sold on Capitol Hill.
A string of catastrophic mistakes, which took lives and increased costs, didn’t help it either. Sadly also, perhaps because times are different, and we take for granted technological feats which took centuries to achieve, space travel lost much of its old glamour.
Another important component of this slow decline in public interest about a space program that seems at times unfocused or too eager to please, the One-Way Ticket to Mars project notwithstanding, may not even have to do with itself but with Nukes.
While the space exploration’s achievements and benefits to mankind are quite impressive, in the same 70 years, nuclear power has proven costly, unreliable, quick to dangerously become outdated, and volatile and risky enough, as ever, to cause mass destruction.
Because it takes a few decades for new, safer technologies to be applied to nuclear plants, almost all of those currently operating around the world are doing so with old technology that predates modern computers and environmental science, and heavily reliant on aging electrical grids. Even decommissioning them is costly. Plus, they’re the stuff of wet dreams for evil doers everywhere.
Nuclear weapons, however, are another story, one whose bullets we’ve been dodging since its inception. They’re banned from war, thank goodness, and a few meltdowns and mishaps haven’t been enough to cause widespread panic, or even come close to the damage caused to the environment, public health, and global economic relations that the use of fossil fuels has. Aren’t we lucky?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S., all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany and the European Union, won’t stop the Iranian nuclear program per se, but prevent the country from implementing its weapons development industry, at it drastically cuts down enriched-uranium production.
Naturally no country in the world could be completely incapacitated from waging war, if it’d choose to do so, since weapon manufactures have often more power than entire nations. It’d be naive and, well, lethal getting on their way of doing business.
At the same time, leave it to the Ayatollah in charge to put his own holy foot in his mouth, and give all the arguments Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu loves to use to convince his country’s hard liners that there’s just one acceptable outcome to Israel’s existence: the complete annihilation of Iran. Again, not at all coincidentally, such rhetoric is wholly embraced by the Ayatollahs.
Thus, a positive outcome from talks over Iran’s nuclear program can only be possible if these two are not sitting at the same table at the same time. For, with their one-track minds, they may actually agree on a final solution, rest of the world be damned.
But Israel does have one legitimate fear that at least part of its security may have been diluted with this agreement: the fact that no other Middle East nation has been involved, which may mean that they’re not lending regional legitimacy to its terms.
That’s no good, albeit typical of the Arab world; Israel gets no sympathy, even when the lives of millions may be at stake. For a religion that’s often at the center of Middle Eastern conflicts, Islam as a whole is also awfully shy about supporting this accord.
Then there’s the U.S. Congress, and the picture darkens even more. That is because the GOP agenda of sabotaging President Obama may be running out of time. Derailing this deal could be one still attainable goal, to counter eight years of few successes but mostly failed attempts to embarrass the administration before the world. In fact, some Democrats could even join them.
That, of course, could be a mistake, to be sure. Not only because having Iran agreeing on some major reductions of its nuclear program cannot be credited only to the president, but also because it could set a template to resolve other issues in the region.
Breaking the agreement would undermine the power of diplomacy for solving delicate conflicts peacefully, of gathering consensus with a group of nations as the preferable alternative to simply sending the drones to bomb them to oblivion. Remember, we’ve been trying that for the past 20 years and it really hasn’t gotten us to a position of security. On the contrary, it’s only increased fear.
Lastly, even though agreements are flawed, and can’t guarantee their own fruition, we haven’t seen one of this magnitude being broken in a long while; despite all fears to the contrary, they actually only get better implemented with time.
It was a coincidence but of the good kind. While the world was watching pictures of Pluto sent from a plutonium-driven satellite, seven nations were capping 30 years of negotiations to diffuse a potentially harmful situation: that of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Just as fears that a malfunction would send New Horizons and its tiny radioactive chamber hurling back to Earth proved greatly exaggerated, so let’s hope that dire predictions that Iran is deceiving the world and plans exactly what it, and Israel, fear the most, also prove baseless. Neither a new Cold War nor a Nuclear Winter should be our legacy to the future. Have a great one. WC