Seeing the Dark Side of the Moon — and of America

W.J. Astore

The Moon is the brightest object in the night sky. It has so many meanings in our lives, our history, our folklore and myths. Yet we always see it from one side. Until the beginning of the space age, we never saw its dark side. And that dark side presents us with a whole new idea of the Moon, as so:

A truly captivating vision of the dark side of the Moon, courtesy of NASA

I love seeing familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. Here we see the battered side of the Moon. In a sense, the Moon acts as a shield for the Earth, with some asteroids getting funneled into its gravitational well and striking its surface rather than possibly colliding with the Earth. Without a large Moon near us, life on Earth may have proved more precarious, with more mass extinctions due to asteroid strikes. (I think I’m right here, based upon my own reading on our solar system, which I admit was many, many moons ago.)

Can we also see the dark side of other objects? See the familiar in strikingly unfamiliar ways? How about America? It’s not easy, because those who try to help us to see are often punished for their probing in darker places.

Who are some of these “astronomers” who seek to show us America in a new light? I’d like to mention a few names here: Daniel Ellsberg, Daniel Hale, John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. And let’s throw an Aussie in there too: Julian Assange. And an outspoken Catholic worker by the name of Dorothy Day. Or how about an anarchist like Emma Goldman. These men and women (and many others) sought to shine a probing light on some of the darker sides of American behavior, and you won’t be surprised to learn that they suffered for it.

My point here is not to focus exclusively on the dark side of America. Rather, just as it’s an incomplete picture to see the Moon from only one side and perspective, so too is it a limiting experience to see America from only one side. And that “one side” is typically the one most favorable to America, the brightest one, the least cratered one, even the romantic one.

If we seek to understand the Moon in its entirety, we must see all its sides — especially its most battered one. The same is true of America.

A Trumped-Up Space Force

Space exploration and exploitation isn’t what it used to be

W.J. Astore

Space, the “final frontier,” isn’t what it used to be.  In the 1960s and early 1970s I grew up a fan of NASA as well as Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.  NASA was (and is) a civilian space agency, even though its corps of astronauts was originally drawn from the ranks of military test pilots.  Star Trek offered a vision of a “federation” of planets in the future, united by a vision “to explore strange new worlds,” venturing forth boldly in the cause of peace.  Within the US military, space itself was considered to be the new “high ground,” admittedly a great place for spy satellites (which helped to keep the peace) but a disastrous place for war.  (Of course, that didn’t prevent the military from proposing crazy ideas, like building a military base on the moon armed with nuclear-tipped missiles.)

Attracted to the space mission, my first assignment as a military officer was to Air Force Space Command.  I helped to support the Space Surveillance Center in Cheyenne Mountain Complex, which kept track of all objects in earth orbit, from satellites to space junk.  (You don’t want a lost hammer or other space junk colliding with your billion-dollar satellite at a speed of roughly 17,000 miles per hour.)  In the mid-1980s, when I was in AFSPACECOM, an offensive space force to “dominate” space was a vision shared by very few people.  I had a small role to play in supporting tests of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile launched from F-15s, but those tests were curtailed and later cancelled as the Soviet Union, considered as America’s main rival for control of space, began to collapse in the late 1980s.

But that was then, and this is now, and the “now” of the moment is a new US military service, an offensive space force, proposed by the Trump administration as essential to US national security.  At, William Hartung provides the details of Trump’s new space force in this fine article.  As I read Hartung’s article, a thought flashed through my mind: We’re not the peaceful Federation of Star Trek.  We’re much more like the Klingon Empire.

In the original Star Trek, the Klingons were a highly aggressive and thoroughly militaristic species that was dedicated to dominating space.  They were proudly imperial and driven by conquest.  Trump, who with his bombast and barking and boasting would make a great Klingon, sees a “space force” that’s all military: that’s all about domination through aggressive action and better offensive weaponry.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: Everywhere we go, there we are.  Increasingly for America, that saying means: Everywhere we go, there our military and weapons are.  Even in space.

The “final frontier” of space, which in my youth was largely a realm of peaceful exploration, whether by NASA in the real-world or in the imaginary future of Star Trek, is now under Trump an increasingly militarized place.  This is so because our minds, perhaps humanity’s true “final frontier,” have also been thoroughly militarized.

A war-driven people will bring war with them wherever they go.  If the Vulcans (like Mr. Spock, who was half-Vulcan) are smart, they won’t reach out to humans if and when we find a “warp” drive that allows us to travel much faster than the speed of light.  Logical and peaceful beings that they are, perhaps they’ll quarantine earth and humanity instead.  Maybe with the Vulcan equivalent of a big, fat, beautiful wall?