As the U.S. pours billions into a missile defense system which is great at shooting down rogue U.S. satellites but of questionable utility as a method of ensuring international stability, and has to make do with aging space shuttles that are falling apart at the seams, Europe is quietly winning the space race. Even the space tourism venture which is to be based in Arizona is European, a venture by UK billionaire Richard Branson.
Yet five years ago, there was a very different picture.
Back in 2003, the European Space Agency was on its knees following some spectacular failures of its Ariane booster. The company that made the booster was facing bankruptcy. But a reconstruction and refinancing package has, in just five years, brought Arianespace a bulging order book and a clear position as the top dog in the commercial satellite launching business. It is now engaged in a massive expansion of its launch complex in French Guiana to accomodate Soyuz and the new Vega boosters and also has another Soyuz launchpad at Baikonur, the old Soviet cosmodrome.
And then there's this:
It's the massive new ATV unmanned "space truck" from the European Space Industry, the product of a 1.3 billion euro program by a consortium of European companies led by EADS Astrium and launched atop an Arianespace booster. The first launched yesterday from French Guiana on a mission to deliver five tons of cargo to the International Space Station - to the almost complete silence of the American media.
The U.S. is pouring its development money - both federal and that of the main aerospace companies - into development of new military technologies which will enable hypersonic killing of individual terrorists by multi-billion ramjet vehicles launched from the other side of the world. That development money is short in any case because of the multi-trillion cost of the Iraqi misadventure.
You could call Europe's success a peace dividend of sorts - the kind that comes from refusing to get too involved in Bush's personal crusade against Saddam. And mayhap you could make the case that out-producing the terrorists in good capitalist style is at least as much an effective tactic in the War on Terror as any Iraq distraction.