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West Germany urged to join Europe-wide space program

Bonn will soon become just as enthusiastic about space as Paris is, if the 27 authors of a report released Tuesday have their way. And the integration of Europe will receive a new impulse. This is the thrust of some ambitious recommendations for space policy advanced Tuesday by a blue-ribbon commission of West German specialists from government, Parliament, research institutes, industry, and trade unions under the chairmanship of Professor Karl Kaiser of the German Society for Foreign Policy.

First there are a lot of hurdles, however. The West German Finance Ministry is keeping the purse firmly shut. The key Ministry of Research and Technology is skeptical. (The ministry's head of space research, who helped write the study, has already been retired early for his zeal.) The public is largely indifferent to space -- and even suspicious of the study's thesis that in order to wield their proper weight in the 21st century, West Germany and Europe must keep pace with United States, Soviet, and Japanese technology in space.

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Nonetheless, the June 23 report urges boldly that future decisions on projects be made not on a piecemeal, cost-benefit basis as in the past, but on the basis of a prior commitment to launch into space. The study calls for:

An ``autonomous Western European presence in space,'' with civilian coordination to be implemented by the European Space Agency and military coordination to be implemented by a revivified Western European Union.

Development of an independent European reconnaissance and intelligence satellite, as well as a space station and transport rockets for both manned and unmanned experiments and commercial production.

German participation in the planned US space station Columbus.

In a speech in West Berlin Tuesday, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher endorsed the goal of European autonomy in space and the group's other main findings. On Monday, under strong Foreign Ministry prodding, the Economics and Research Ministries finally approved German participation in the current definition phase of the French Hermes space shuttle. But in broader questions of space policy, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Research Minister Heinz Riesenhuber are still reserving their positions.

In plans that need to be resolved in the near future, Bonn will have to decide not only on participation in the US Columbus project, but also, by October, on participation in the actual building of Hermes. The Kaiser study recommends that Bonn take a 30 percent financial share in Hermes -- under the condition that the project be Europeanized.

Clearly the Kaiser team feels the need to sell its recommendations. For Germans who are still recovering from the disastrous results of Adolf Hitler's megalomania, the principle that Germany should keep its world rank by going into space is far from self-evident.

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In this context, the new report's emphasis on Europe reflects not only the inadequacy of national budgets to fund such an expensive undertaking, but also the greater respectability of a European over a national effort in space.

The left in particular -- with the exception of the Greens, the only party that was unrepresented on the study team -- can more easily be won over to a European than to a national German space program -- and to greater independence from the US military use of space.

The Kaiser report, although arguing the importance of exploitation of space for security, sees this role essentially as a passive one of sensors rather than space-based weapons, even if West Germany moves to develop a tactical antiballistic missile defense.

While the study's main goal is securing Europe's overall role as the third great center of high technology in the world -- in the words of Professor Kaiser -- the study also foresees benefits in specific areas as well. These include industrial competitiveness, robotic and other technological progress, job creation, communication, weather forecasting, environmental protection, development of the third world, and independent defense reconnaissance and monitoring of arms-control compliance. The study avoids any cost estimates, contending that a national debate on space policy should precede calculations of affordability.

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