An exploration of the bonds, fiscal and intellectual, between science and the military.
Every 3.6 days, write renowned astrophysicist Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, 2017, etc.) and Lang, a research associate at the Hayden Planetarium, an unclassified research paper by a scientist affiliated with the Los Alamos National Laboratory appears, swelling the literature of astrophysics with work on supernovas, gamma ray bursts, and all such manner of future-shock science. The authors deliver a history that is broader than its subtitle suggests; though Tyson is a space scientist, the military-industrial complex leverages workers in every scientific discipline, from agronomy to zoology. This linkage has become ever tighter in the years since 9/11, when it was “a fine time to be a mercenary, a military engineering firm, or a giant aerospace company.” Science and technology workers were close behind, flush with billions of dollars delivered to a wide variety of projects. Though academic scientists were a minor part of the mix, writes Tyson, “it has long been clear to me that the space research my colleagues and I conduct plugs firmly and fundamentally into the nation’s military might." Thus it ever was, perhaps. Between 1903 and 1916, write the authors, only 1,000 planes were manufactured in the United States, but put on a war footing and with federal funds flowing, the aerospace industry was turning out twice that many planes every month, the product of the close relationship among industry, science, and government that has reigned ever since. The leveraging of science in the national interest goes against the basic spirit of the enterprise, since science is supposed to be universal and “in space there is no religion, culture, or politics”—and yet the military is where the money is even if the funding for astrophysics, and indeed basic science, is the tiniest fraction of military spending overall.
An intriguing history. Look for mines and ray guns on the final frontier, for, as the authors conclude, “what a country funds is what that country prioritizes.”