Recently, the phrase “Unidentified Flying Objects” a.k.a. UFOs has acquired a different meaning, it no longer refers to enormous flying saucers of unknown origins, manned by extraterrestrials who plan to invade the planet Earth or to capture homo sapiens specimens for scientific studies. Those white balloons flying over the USA have been identified as China’s objects.
A couple of years ago, an unidentified flying object crashed into Philippine territorial waters, 50 kilometers from the east coast of Palawan. A steadfast ally, the USA, sent a team from the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) to scoop out of the Sulu Sea 22,500 kilos of debris of what was identified as a “Long March” 5B rocket. Definitely China’s, the “Long March” was the epic 6,000-mile trek led by Chairman Mao Zedong.
Let us rewind to 4 October 1957, the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics) astounded the world when it launched Sputnik I, an unmanned satellite that orbited the planet Earth. That was probably why, in September 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower addressed the UN General Assembly and proposed a treaty about outer space with a kilometric title: “Treaty Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies”, in short, the Moon Treaty. In 1961, the USSR sent Yuri Gagarin to outer space in Vostok 1; he was the first cosmonaut. Not to be outdone, on 20 February 1962, the USA launched John Glenn into outer space aboard the Mercury-Atlas 6. The race to conquer Outer Space had begun.
The United Kingdom, the USA and the USSR signed the Moon Treaty in Oct. 1967; The Philippines signed in 1984. Since then 89 States have signed but not all have ratified the treaty. As for China, the original signatory was Taiwan ( Republic of China), but when the USA recognized the People’s Republic of China in January 1979, the latter sent its accession to the treaty; however, it has not signed nor ratified it.
How far out into space can a country realistically claim sovereignty? Those China’s white balloons were flying at 60,000 and 40,000 feet, surely the USA can claim that as part of the atmosphere as their national territory. Can we claim that our national territory extends into the indefinite and infinite limits of outer space? Assuming that we have the capability to do so, can we shoot and destroy satellites and spacecrafts that trespass our national galactic territory?
The Moon Treaty dictates that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Clearly, outer space and celestial bodies belong to humankind and not to any particular country, powerful or not. The treaty also states that objects launched into space belong to their registered owners while out there and during earthbound trajectory. Space crafts must not carry weapons of mass destruction; no signatory can establish military bases, fortifications nor installations to test weapons.
The parties to the treaty also agree to share information on their activities on the moon and other celestial bodies to the public, the international scientific community and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. A signatory State must keep a registry of all space objects launched, a copy of which should be furnished to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The USA said China’s balloons were a threat to commercial air flights. According to the treaty, a launching State “shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the earth or to aircraft in flight.” In fact, when Kosmos 954, a Soviet satellite, reentered the earth’s atmosphere in 1978, its nuclear reactor which had Uranium 235 scattered debris over Canada’s Northwest Territories which, fortunately, was sparsely populated, unlike Montana or South Carolina.
At this writing, a fourth “unidentified flying object” was shot down as it floated at 20,000 feet over Lake Huron in the state of Michigan. Three others were spotted on 4 and 10 February, 28 January and two years ago, “unidentified objects” were also seen over Guam. According to US news sources, there were three during the administration of former Pres. Donald Trump. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, was about to go to People’s China but canceled his trip due to the balloons which he said violated the sovereignty of the USA.
The ex-Soviet Union versus the USA was chapter one of “Star Wars”, it looks like the rest of the epic will be dominated by the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. What a battle of science and technologies lubricated with diplomacy and sardonic wit. I wonder if the Moon Treaty can protect us lowly earthlings from the coming Armageddon.