Protesters object to militarization of space at annual symposium in Colorado Springs

By Debbie Kelley,
Published by The Gazetter, 4 April 2022

The militarization of space should be of concern to everyone, say a group of Colorado Springs anti-war activists, some of whom have been demonstrating at the Space Symposium since its beginnings in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program anticipated weapons in space.

Money spent on developing space technology would be more productive if applied toward international cooperation rather than “imperial supremacy,” said Peter Sprunger-Froese, a longtime advocate for “peace in space.”

The United States’ quest to remain “top-dog in the pursuit of space domination,” he said, is at the heart of why protesters show up year after year outside the event with banners and signs.

Among the messages activists hoisted Monday evening in front of The Broadmoor’s International Center: “The Heavens are for Wonder, Not Warfare,” “The USA is Suffering from a Military-Industrial Complex” and “Where is the Morality in Military-Funded Technology?”

“The main message is we are not going to be ostriches sticking our heads in the sand because we don’t happen to be technological experts on what folks are doing here, but we are experts on moral commonality, and we don’t agree with the perpetuation of the myth that war brings peace,” Sprunger-Froese said.

“It does not bring peace — it brings ongoing inequality, poverty, homelessness and we-they divisiveness, not the planetary cooperation we should be seeking.”

The 37th annual Space Symposium kicked off Monday night and is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees from 40 countries to the four-day event.

Some 200 high-caliber speakers are presenting talks, there are copious networking receptions and roundtable discussions, and aerospace companies have set up 275 booths spanning two exhibition halls to display the latest technology and potentially strike new business deals.

Presented by the Colorado Springs-headquartered Space Foundation, the event showcases not only the aerospace sector and space commerce but also public and private space exploration, achievement, education and hype for an industry that is forecast to “more than double from $447 billion in 2021 to $1 trillion by the end of the decade,” Tom Zelibor, CEO of the Space Foundation, told The Gazette last week.

However, the event’s speeches, panels and exhibits historically consist of at least 60% military contractors, with commercial and civilian space agencies in the minority, said Loring Wirbel, chair of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission in Colorado Springs.

Wirbel, author of “Star Wars: U.S. Tools of Space Supremacy,” a book about the government’s space militarization plans during the Bush era, said while “there are no true weapons” in space currently, “heavy use of space for military imaging leads to just the sort of omniscient data state that people worry about with China and facial recognition.”

Even companies intent on working solely in the civilian realm “often get prodded into taking contracts with the Air Force, Space Force or intelligence community,” Wirbel said.

Companies are being courted to produce micro-satellites for imaging and communication, and create launch vehicles, he said.

Members of Colorado College Peace and Justice, a student group, also demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the hotel’s largest conference hall.

Freshman Evelyn Baher-Murphy, from the San Francisco Bay area, said she found it interesting how many people engaged in conversation with activists, who also handed out flyers with their messages.

“There’s international support as well, from France, Italy, Scotland,” she said of symposium-goers who stopped to chat.

Adding space as a landscape for future battles “furthers the proliferation of war and violence,” Baher-Murphy said.

“Enough damage and suffering have already been caused in the air, on land and on water,” she said. “It makes it illogical to place our investments to make the war machine larger than it already is. Our tax dollars too often fund militarism instead of things like education.”

Freshman Tim Smith, of Minneapolis, Minn., showed up to oppose what he views as injustice.

“We are at the most unequal moment in history — folks can work a full-time job, and still not be able to get by,” Smith said.

“Our government is concerned with spending millions, billions, of dollars on putting random stuff in space. How is this just? How does this demonstrate a government whose priority is the well-being of its citizens? It doesn’t.”

Resisting what Smith sees as a “lack of moral and fiscal concern” is especially important in Colorado Springs, where El Paso County has more military installations than any other county in the nation.

The topic is complex, said Jane Odinson, a symposium attendee who has conducted space-application research for government organizations. 

“I strongly believe that space should be used for peaceful purposes,” Odinson said. “That was the primary gist of the Outer Space Treaty in the 1960s,” which became the basis of international space law when space travel was in its infancy.

“But differing opinions from government groups and those in positions of power and influence got in the way, and we all don’t agree now,” she said. “The conflict in Europe gives a clear explanation of why people advocated for the militarization of space, but you can argue that using space for militarism, war, missiles and weapons doesn’t do anything for the progress of humankind.”

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