George W. Bush made a major space policy announcement at NASA headquarters on Jan. 14, including establishment of permanent bases on the moon and an aggressive program to take humans to Mars. Estimates for these projects could well exceed $150 billion.

To make the trip to Mars feasible, Bush is expected to commit to using a nuclear rocket – what is now known as “Project Prometheus,” named after the god of fire. The nuclear rocket would cut in half the time it would take to get to Mars, and would have military applications as well.

The U.S. never signed the 1979 Moon Treaty that was created at the United Nations to prevent a rush of land claims and military bases on the planetary body. In fact, a once-secret 1959 U.S. Army study, entitled “The Establishment of a Lunar Outpost,” stated, “The lunar outpost is required to develop and protect potential U.S. interests on the moon; to develop techniques in moon-based surveillance of the earth and space … to serve as a base for exploration of the moon, for further exploration into space and for military operations on the moon if required.”

Scientists have discovered valuable resources on the moon including helium 3, a fuel that is seen as a replacement for the dwindling supply of fossil fuels back here on Earth. In a 1995 New York Times op-ed, science writer Lawrence Joseph said, “If we ignore the potential of this remarkable fuel, the nation could slip behind in the race for control of the global economy, and our destiny beyond.”

Ideas of U.S. control of the moon have interesting origins.

In the book “Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space,” author Jack Manno told the story of Nazi Maj. Gen. Walter Dornberger (the man who recruited Werner Von Braun to work for Hitler to build the V-1 and V-2 rockets).

After the end of World War II, the U.S. military recruited Von Braun and 1,500 other Nazi scientists to come to the U.S. under Operation Paper Clip. Von Braun, along with Dornberger and 100 others from the German rocket team, were brought to create the U.S. space program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Before a 1958 congressional hearing, Dornberger insisted that America’s top space priority ought to be to “conquer, occupy, keep and utilize space between the Earth and the moon.”

This same theme re-emerged in a 1989 study written for the U.S. Congress by John Collins. The study, published in book form, was called “Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years.” The book’s foreword was signed by political leaders at the time, including Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio).

Congressional staffer Collins reported that the U.S. would need to have military bases on the moon in order to control the pathway between the Earth and moon. Collins went on to conclude that with U.S. bases on the moon, “Armed forces might lie in wait at that location to hijack rival shipments on return.” Obviously the author was envisioning the day when aerospace corporations would be hard at work “mining the sky” for profit.

The Bush administration and its aerospace allies have been in despair since China launched her first man into space in 2003. Hours after Chinese “taikonaut” Yang Liwei made his historic venture into space, the aerospace lobby was warning of severe consequences. At a space conference, Rich Haver, a vice-president at Northrup Grumman Corp., responding to a question about the implications of China’s space voyage, said, “I think the Chinese are telling us they’re there, and I think if we ever wind up in a confrontation again with any one of the major powers who has a space capability, we will find space is a battleground.”

Just as the Spanish Armada and British Navy were created to protect “interests and investments” in the new world, space is viewed today as open territory to be seized for eventual corporate profit.

The United Nations created the Moon Treaty and the Outer Space Treaty as ways to circumvent the warlike tendencies of humankind as we step out into the cosmos. These treaties hoped to ensure that conflict over “national appropriation” of the planetary bodies could be avoided.

The U.S. appears to be heading in the opposite direction. It is creating enormous danger and conflict that, with the latest Bush plan, will expand nuclear power and weapons into space – all disguised as the noble effort to hunt for the “origins of life.” Only a lively and growing global debate about the ethics and morality of current space policy will save us from lighting the harsh fires of Prometheus in the heavens.

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, www.space4peace.org. He can be reached at globalnet@mindspring.com.