Artemis launch: Are we, once again, in danger of missing history’s bus?

Artemis 1, officially Artemis I, is a planned uncrewed Moon-orbiting mission, the first spaceflight in NASA's Artemis program, and the first flight of the agency's Space Launch System rocket and the complete Orion spacecraft.

Artemis 1, officially Artemis I, is a planned uncrewed Moon-orbiting mission, the first spaceflight in NASA’s Artemis program, and the first flight of the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and the complete Orion spacecraft (PHOTO /Courtesy)

By Andrew Besi

Alongside Selene, ancient Greek religion identifies Artemis – daughter of Zeus – with the moon. She was also the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, nature, vegetation, childbirth, care of children, and chastity. Artemis was also a twin sister to Apollo.

It is Apollo for whom the National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) named its first program to land man on the moon from 1968 – 1972.

1968, of course, was only two years after our Republic emerged from the Mmengo crisis. 1972 was the year in which “God appeared to” dictator Idi Amin and instructed him to rid our lands of 50,000 Asians that, in his words, had as “their main interest” to “exploit the economy of Uganda and Ugandan Africans.”

So clearly as the USA and yes even the Soviet Union continued in their quest to understand our universe by studying what lay on our moon and beyond the stars (heavens), in Uganda, we primitively squabbled. Our politicians busied themselves in the misfortune of abusing the trust that our people had given them at Independence.

Last November, a German political foundation named in honor of Konrad Adenauer invited me to be one of 3 panelists in a conversation moderated by the always calm and insightful Dr. Korir Sing’Oei on “The Geopolitics of Outer Space” at their annual Kampala Geopolitics Conference at Makerere University.

In my deliberation, and in response to queries by University students, I affirmed that “outer Space is indeed the new frontier of Geopolitical contestation.”

To illustrate, I pointed out that at the turn of this century, Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation and George Walker Bush won the November presidential elections in the United States. These two men, both stoic in their beliefs and driven by a passion to strengthen their respective countries, embarked on programs “to modernise our economy” and then “modernise our military”.

For H.E. George Bush, this started immediately after September 11. For H.E. Vladimir Putin, his first task was to restore the shattered pride of his people by banishing the corruption of the oligarchs. In 2008, the first phase of modernisation of the Russian military through Research and Development began in earnest.

When in February 2014, the “little green men” successfully regained Crimea from Ukraine, they did so without firing a single shot. They did so without the Ukrainians and even the ever-prying North Atlantic Treaty Organisation knowing. Their GPS system – GLONASS worked well as did their other outer space-based Satellite Telecommunication systems.

Now both the United States and Russia alongside China and India are the only four countries to have successfully tested Hypersonic Missile systems. These hypersonic missile systems travel at least 5 times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and are maneuverable. From launch, they utilise the emptiness of outer space before re-entering our atmosphere in deadly descent towards their targets.
No country possesses defensive systems against them.

Today NASA launches its first Artemis Flight. Artemis is the latest Moon mission program. It aims to take MAN back to the Moon. This time, unlike Neil Armstrong in 1969, man will not bounce up and down on the moon. He (She) will live on the moon for extended periods of time. It is yet another “giant step for mankind”.

In spite of the Ukraine war, Russia continues to invest in its own space program as do the Chinese, the Europeans, and even the Indians. The competition for Space is not limited to searching for alien life forms BUT is now focused on military – communication applications, agriculture (to see if food can be grown on our moon), mineral resources on space objects such as Asteroids, etc.

Political and military scholars now agree that Space; like land, air, and sea; is the new frontier for war. The United States now has a US Space Command Branch in its military. The Russians have had the Russian Space Forces since 2011. Both these Forces also incorporate cyber war capabilities into their repertoire. No African country has a dedicated Space Force let alone a progressive space program.

Recent clamorings by respective leaders of these forces and between the Americans and Chinese for “Moon rights” indicate that the spirit in which the 1967 Treaty on Principles governing the activities of states in the Exploration and Use of Outer space, including the Moon and other Celestial bodies – signed by 132 countries including the USA, Russia, China, and all of Western Europe now dangles on a thread.

In his 25th January 2020 National Delegates Conference of the NRM at Namboole, president Museveni observed that in 1812, John Stevenson’s adjustment of a steam engine into a locomotive engine “introduced a new element in the 4 and a half million years’ journey of man” – machine power. He added that it was “at this point, that the African missed the bus of history.”

Reader! The asymmetric assault by Military Science and economic opportunity in outer space is an existential threat to Africa. Existential because, unless we, with similar zeal as those most gallant of our brave Luweero war heroes, develop a patriotic presence for Uganda and Africa, we once again will miss the “bus of history.”

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent visit quickly followed by Ambassador Thomas Greenfield’s visit both highlight that there is an opportunity for us to create strategic alliances. They highlight the benefits of president Museveni’s singular belief in Regional Integration as a springboard for Uganda, East Africa, and Africa to cast aside primitive squabbles and become significant members of the global commune.

Like the Greeks of old looked to Artemis for nature and childbirth, like NASA looks to its Artemis program to rejuvenate its space ambitions – we must embrace Artemis’s rage and deepen our political, social, and cultural ideologies.

The writer, Andrew Besi, is a member of the Campfire Study Group and works with the Ministry of Information, Communication Technologies, and National Guidance.


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