Guiding bombs, relaying orders, finding a safe way through hostile territory -- just about everything a modern military does on the ground depends on a satellite in space. So it's no wonder that the Pentagon spent a nice-sized chunk of 2004 getting ready for an eventual showdown in orbit.This was also the year that NASA was sent back to its mission of manned exploration -- and astronaut entrepreneurs reached the edge of space. Can trips to Alpha Centauri be far behind?PENTAGON PREPS FOR WAR IN SPACEAn Air Force report is giving what analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon's efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield.For years, the American military has spoken in hints and whispers, if at all, about its plans to develop weapons in space. But the U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan changes all that. Released in November, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century. And it runs through dozens of research programs designed to ensure that America can never be challenged in orbit -- from anti-satellite lasers to weapons that "would provide the capability to strike ground targets anywhere in the world from space."SPACE WAR BUDGET UNVEILED$75.9 million to shut down enemy satellite communications. $84.6 million for projects like relay mirrors that would re-target laser beams in space. $15 million for weapons that ram into satellites and other "space control" efforts. That's just a small sample of what the Pentagon plans to spend on space war research next year, according to a study from the Center for Defense Information.AIR FORCE: ALL'S FAIR IN SPACE WARThe American military has begun planning for combat in space. And commercial spacecraft, neutral countries' launching pads even weather satellites are all on the potential target list.PENTAGON WANTS MINI-KILLERS IN SPACE"Arms Control Wonk" Jeffrey Lewis has uncovered what looks like a Pentagon wish list for orbital combat. At the top of the list: a slew of itty-bitty satellites. Their mission: "Destruction of Enemy Spacecraft."AIR FORCE: SATELLITE JAMMER READYThe U.S. Air Force is ready to start jamming enemy satellites. So says ISR Journal, which reports that the Counter Communications System (CounterCom), a radio frequency-based system to disrupt communications satellites, has been declared operational by the American military.USAF WANTS SELF-AWARE SATELLITESOne of the things that makes Rummy & Co. the most nervous is that nobody has a clue what's up there in orbit. Imagine how vast and opaque the seas must have seen to World War I-era commanders, and you'll get the idea. The Air Force may have a fix: turn satellites' internal monitors outward, to keep tabs on space.TETHERS: SATELLITES' SAVIOR?How could satellites be saved from nuclear attack? Simple, the Pentagon says: with giant, electrically charged space-ropes.IRAN'S "TROJAN HORSE" IN SPACEIran is planning on launching its first satellite early next year. And it's not so the mullahs can catch the Knicks game or HBO Latino.MOON BASE: RECURRING DREAMMoon Base? Old news. In his hotly anticipated announcement Wednesday, President Bush ordered NASA scientists to plan for a manned "foothold on the moon." They might look through their old filing cabinets to start. Because the U.S. government and its contractors have been planning lunar colonies since long before Neil Armstrong took his one giant leap for mankind in 1969.NO IDEA TOO WILD FOR NASA'S SCI-FI ARMShape-shifting space suits? Step right up. Antimatter-powered probes to Alpha Centauri? No problem. Robotic armada to destroy incoming asteroids? Pal, just sign on the dotted line. At the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, the wildest of ideas are not only tolerated. They're welcome.RED, ROUND "TRICORDER" PREPPED FOR SPACEIt's shaped like a basketball. It was inspired by Spock's tricorder. And, if NASA researchers have their way, it could be helping out astronauts aboard the International Space Station in as little as three years.NASA NUKE MISSION BEGINSNASA's nuclear-powered mission to Jupiter's moons is on.SATELLITES SPEED DARFUR AIDSatellites can be used for peaceful purposes, too. A European-led coalition is using the orbiters to boost humanitarian efforts in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan.SPYSAT MYSTERY SOLVEDA classified spy program that had worked Sen. Jay Rockefeller -- and a nice-sized chunk of Washington -- into a jittering froth has been unveiled.CONGRESS POKES ALL-SEEING EYE IN SKYIt's a spook fantasy: an all-seeing, always-on, rain-or-shine constellation of satellites, able to keep track of every plane, truck, and person below. Now, Congress is telling the Pentagon to go back to the drawing board.EURO-GPS: READY FOR ORBIT?It's a fair bet that satellite navigation won't be at the top of the agenda when President Bush meets with European leaders in Ireland next week for the annual summit between the United States and the European Union. But, in the long run, a little-known agreement to allow New World and Old World satellites to play nice with each other could prove to be the summit item that has the greatest impact on average people worldwide.
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