Sunday, November 1, 1998
By V. Gangadhar
DECLAN ODonnells grandfather was the family physician to Henry Ford in Detroit. But the grandson opted for law rather than the automobile industry. Today, well settled as a corporate lawyer in Denver, Colorado, ODonnells priorities had changed. He heads organisations like United Societies in Space Inc and World Space-Bar Association, besides being associated with dozens of organisations dealing with problems of space travel, research and development.
The 60-year old space man was in Mumbai to receive an award for world development. India was something special to him and he was upset that India was not getting its due share in space activities. Wittingly or unwittingly, the big powers, particularly the USA, were dictating terms on vital issues connected with space.
ODonnell wants space to be thrown open to everyone and its resources exploited to the full. To break the monopoly of some of the big powers, he has created Metanation, a citizen movement which will have a voice in the making of space policies for the future. Metanation, which is sponsored by the United Societies of Space, will be created by convention on August 4, 2000 at Denver, Colorado (one mile closer to space than Mumbai!). It will also sponsor economic development of the moon and has already set up the Lunar Economic Authority whose Board of Directors include former NASA top officials and astronauts like Edgar Mitchell and Buzz Aldrin.
In fact, it was certain legal aspects of space travel which fired his interest in the subject. During a visit to the Colorado public library in the early 1980s, with his two children, ODonnell glanced through some of the books on space and learnt that one cannot travel to space because of legal complications. In the USA, only scientists, military personnel and astronauts were cleared for space travel. The 1986 crash of the Challenger spacecraft created further problems. Russia, the other major space power, was far more liberal, but did not have any space tourists because of the high costs involved. Yet, it did allow a French woman, who had won a huge lottery prize, to travel to its space station MIR.
"Outer space did not belong to any one nation," explained ODonnell." The Russians launched the first Sputnik and the Americans were the first to land on the moon. But they cannot claim ownership of outer space." He argued that anyone who was physically fit and could afford the costs should be able to travel in space.
But are ordinary people game for space travel? explained ODonnell: "Worldwide 20 per cent of the population really desired to be involved in space programmes and out of this, 10 per cent are committed to space travel. That created a huge market for us." The Lockheed Aircraft Co with its partner Martin Marrieta had already started to build a special spacecraft for civilian space travel. "In another five years, it could take passengers for space trips and then bring them back again." He referred to a 1974 NASA statement which stated that there were no more substantial technical barriers to living in space.
"This is not a dream," asserted ODonnell. "The first Sputnik was launched in 1957 and 12 years later, man was on the moon. Todays dreams may well become the reality of tomorrow." However, he was critical of the USA for abandoning its moon-landing projects. "The resources of the moon were not utilised and NASA should have had more moon landings." ODonnell also founded the Mars Society on August 15, 1998, which will work towards the eventual human settlement in the Red Planet early next century. The vast resources of the moon could be utilised for this purpose.
What kind of resources? Explained, ODonnell: "Thousands of asteroids had crashed on the surface of the moon and lie buried under the resultant craters. These asteroids carried immense wealth in the form of minerals like iron ore, nickel, cobalt and platinum. Dr James Lewis of Arizona State University, an authority on the subject, had estimated that one single asteroid was worth $ 20,000 billion, an amount which exceeded the GNP of India for over 100 years!"
What was urgenly needed to coordinate these efforts was an organisation manned by the right people. The UN team on space efforts consisted of engineers and technicians who lacked the right visions, complained ODonnell. Several existing laws and treaties had to be reworked. Space travel should be made easier, outer space be thrown open and the present system of big power exploitation be checked.
The Metanation could handle these issues and find suitable solutions, said ODonnell. At present it functioned as a government-in-exile with offices in the USA, Russia, Mexico, India, Canada and Indonesia. The International Space Station built by NASA has been languishing. Built at a huge cost, it excluded India and several other major nations and its failure clearly proved that such a monopoly could not work in space. But it could be revived by Metanation and house hundreds of space research projects. Metanation should be recognised as a full-fledged member of the UN so that it could interact with other countries in space research.
International co-operation could stop the present exploitation of space and bring about much-needed reforms in benefit sharing. Today, outer space is the monopoly of the West which had put up nearly 10,000 satellites, most of them for military purposes. American firms like Comsat made huge profits from their satellites which were utilised for telecommunication purposes. India had suffered heavily on the benefit sharing issue. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty which promised such benefits had been practically abandoned and replaced by a new UN resolution adopted in 1997, at the instance of the big powers. The UNs ineffectiveness in monitoring space activities was proved by the failure of the 1979 Moon Treaty. Snapped ODonnell:"The UN had gone backwards during the last 20 years. UNCOPUOS (United Nations Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) had not done much. Very soon I will be challenging these treaties in the US courts."
"With so many
problems to tackle, there are only 212 space lawyers in
the USA," lamented ODonnell. Space, he
asserted, was not all that forbidding. People
travelled more than 200 kms during their holidays.
"Space travel meant was travelling the same
distance, but upwards," he pointed out with a
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