What do people misunderstand about space travel

Space commentary: Enthusiasm - and a new arms race

In space travel, the pioneering spirit has always been a good servant for military purposes. So we are watching the start of a new arms race.

The Japanese launched a lunar probe. China, India and the traditional space powers USA, Russia and the European Union are also in the running. In the coming years, one mission after the next is supposed to go around the satellite or land on it. In the end, Russians, Chinese and of course the USA want to shoot people at the moon and plant flags again. After that, Mars is already firmly in sight. And various private consortia - encouraged by Google since this week - want to catch up with and overtake these countries.

That makes the space fan happy after all these lean years with little excitement. With private companies and foundations, a completely new price awareness comes into play. They reckon with millions, where the state space agencies thought in billions. Whether the dreams will then come true is of course an unresolved question. It is not without reason that the American term "rocket science" stands for a complicated and treacherous problem. But without broader competition and new ideas, space travel will not get anywhere. Because otherwise only the very rich nations can afford it.

What makes the political observer puzzled is the pioneering euphoria of the USA, Russia, China & Co: When such governments talk about ideals, there is usually more behind them. In space travel, the pioneering spirit has always been a good servant for military purposes. With the launch vehicle technology and the space shuttles, the US has built and secured its military superiority in space. The secret services of Russia and the USA, and later some other countries, fought head-to-head for the best spy satellites.

Now a new generation of vehicles and space probes is to be developed. The military will be grateful for this technology. So we are watching the start of a new arms race. Since it is no longer just a question of West versus East, as in the Cold War, but also includes the major emerging countries, this arms race can hardly be prevented: the initiative, if at all, would have to come from the pioneer in orbit, the USA. But US governments of all stripes have shown no inclination to abandon their plans for space domination.

So once again everything depends on the citizen, in this case the growth of a - more or less worldwide - peace movement. She could ask unpleasant questions, train experts and ensure openness. Unfortunately, a powerful peace movement is as far away as a landing on Mars.