With the Trump Administration moving forward with a new Military Force to protect US interests in outer space, will this create opportunities for chemistry research and advanced technologies? The obvious plan is to weaponize outer space in order to protect ourselves from hostile enemies. However, in order to make this a reality, much more science and technology will need to be discovered to accomplish this. This includes protecting our satellites which spy, provide communications, and potentially need to be "hardened" against weapons which might disrupt their capabilities, many of which are for peaceful endeavors. What do you think?
The closest Federal Program that has supported chemistry... and biology, is, of course, NASA. To explore the world outside of earth and to ensure safety for manned space vehicles, NASA has wound up discovering many new technologies itself, and supported many other research institutes to solve problems associated with space exploration.
One of the projects that I was involved in was responding to NASA requests for computers aboard Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle. The IBM ThinkPad was selected after a competitive bidding process that involved function/capability and reliability in orbit. When the International Space Station (ISS) was proposed, a similar request was was made which required additional testing for reliability against cosmic rays, anti-gravity, and other environmental issues. In addition, bids had to meet both Russian and European Space Agency Specifications, who also meant competing with companies worldwide. ThinkPad has been selected for use on the International Space Station.
I am glad that there is increased awareness of outer space. However, the flaws in this idea are so many, one may not count them all.
First, we already have a military command dedicated to work in outer space - the U. S. Air Force. So the addition of a "space force" would be redundant.
Second, the costs in instituting this plan would be extremely high and there is the question of where the money would come from. As with anything in this country related to the military, the money would come from the non-security portion of the budget, robbing the meager resources educational systems (among other programs) already have. No one is willing to take money from the defense and security portions of the budget, even though they are way out of line with reality.
Third, as noted in the earlier comment, we already have NASA so we have a presence.
Fourth, I am not sure that the establishment of such a military program is not a violation of international law.
Finally, what does it say about our ethics if we, as chemists, conduct research which does nothing to advance civilization but rather destroys it? When President Reagan first proposed his Star Wars program, it sounded great until people realized that some of the weapons envisioned required the detonation of hydrogen bombs in outer space. That's not a great start.
If we see outer space as a battleground, what does it say about views of the world?
On Nov. 1, 2018, ACS President Peter Dorhout presented The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) with a designation as a National Chemical Landmark status for its contributions to the use of Pu-238 fuel for propelling spacecraft For Space Exploration. The dedication was included as part of the Savannah River Section's hosting of the Southeast Regional Meeting (SERMACS 2018) at the Augusta Convention Center in Augusta, Georgia.
Plutonium is desirable as a rocket fuel due to its half life of ~ 10 years, which allows its natural decay to generate heat energy to propel spacecraft at distances for which the sun's radiation is too weak to provide useful fuel to operate at distances beyond Mars or Jupiter in our solar system. Join me in congratulating the chemists and engineers at SRNL that have made the NASA Mars landers and other unmanned flybys a reality for this proud achievement!