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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 February 24 - March 1  > People’s joint struggle in 1980s block military use of outer space
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2016 February 24 - March 1 [PEACE]

People’s joint struggle in 1980s block military use of outer space

February 24, 2016
The Abe government is going ahead with a plan to apply Japan’s advanced space technology to military use. The Japanese people, however, have a history of preventing the use of space for military purposes by waging vigorous campaigns.

In 1986, Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO) in Nagano Prefecture, an observation station of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, received an invitation to a research conference. The sponsors of the conference were NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

At that time, the Reagan administration was pushing forward with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The initiative, aiming to intercept nuclear missiles launched by the Soviet Union, was dubbed the Star Wars Project.

The NRO has a radio telescope 45 meters in diameter, the largest in the world. Using the high-performance telescope, the observatory discovered interstellar molecules and gaseous disks surrounding protostars. These discoveries surprised the whole world.

The theme of the research meeting was the development of a device that can receive submillimeter waves. If such a device was developed, it would substantially improve the accuracy of astronomical observations. The aim of Washington was to use the new device in order to detect enemies’ missiles as quickly as possible.

NRO staff members repeatedly discussed how to respond to the invitation. A research engineer at the observatory, Mikoshiba Hiroshi, said, “The observation of submillimeter waves was attractive to us. However, once we make some sort of agreement with the military, we will get too deeply involved. We finally decided to alert many researchers to the dangers in cooperating with the military.”

In 1987, astronomers formed an association opposing the SDI and launched a campaign to collect signatures. The petition was signed by 510 researchers associated with the Astronomical Society of Japan, more than 80% of the 604-member organization.

In response to the astronomers’ call, ordinary citizens took action. In the same year, devotees of astronomy also started a signature campaign intended for the general public. Among the campaign initiators was Honda Minoru (1913-90), a world-famous amateur astronomer who discovered a comet in 1940.

Ono Tomohisa, a 67-year-old space enthusiast living in Okayama Prefecture, played a key role in the petition campaign. “I thought that we should stand up not to isolate the astronomers’ movement. The list of signers included presidents of Japan’s leading telescope manufacturers,” said Ono. The campaigners sent to the United Nations a total of 12,000 signatures objecting to the SDI.

In 1993, the NRO officially decided on a policy of banning the use of its observation equipment for the purpose of military research. In the same year, the U.S. government announced that it will abandon the SDI.

However, the Star Wars Project has been revived as a missile defense (MD) program, and Tokyo and Washington are again stepping up their moves to develop space militarily.

Noting that collaboration between citizens and researchers is essential to stop the militarization of space, Ono quoted Honda’s remarks: “The starlight we are now looking at in the sky has just arrived after a long journey of tens of thousands of years. We must not spoil this beautiful universe. All I want to do is look up at the stars without any obstructions.”

Past related article:
> Gov’t will upgrade spy satellite capabilities [November 13, 2015]
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