As the military begins to explore the use of outer space for national defense and hunter-killer satellites move from the drawing board to the night skies, sabotage of Glaser’s costly and sophisticated system must be considered.
“You can’t have terrorists sabotage this system unless the terrorists sit in the Kremlin,” Glaser says confidently. “An Idi Amin or a Yasir Arafat or the Red Brigades cannot do it. It can only be done by sophisticated national armies of some sort or another. I don’t believe that will actually happen, because such an action would be as warlike as the sinking of a ship on earth.”
Aside from the questions raised about the political feasibility of Glaser’s plan, there is some concern about the possible adverse biological affects of the microwave-based system itself. Soviet microwave irradiation of the US Embassy in Moscow, damage suits brought by World War II radar operators, and growing citizen anxiety over the potential health hazards of PAVE PAWS, the Air Force national security radar system, have called into question the safety of the system that Glaser proposes to carry the sun’s energy.
“Let me put it this way,” Glaser responds. “I believe a lot more needs to be done to achieve an understanding of this microwave business. I believe that understanding will only be obtained through getting more data to find out how come the eastern European nations have an exposure limit which is so much lower than ours. I have a very simple proposition that I make. We have designed the receiving antenna and the microwave beam in such a way that we are 100 times below the acceptable US standard for continuous exposure to microwaves. Propose a new international standard and we’ll design to it. We have no problem with that.”
Regarding the risk of unanticipated satellite re-entry into the atmosphere, such as the recent crash of a Soviet unit in northern Canada, Glaser has a ready, if somewhat facile, answer. “How many people here are worried about the moon coming down?” he asks rhetorically. “These satellites have about the same orbital characteristics as the moon. If you are worried about the moon coming down then you should be worried about a satellite in synchronous orbit coming down. You see, they are not in low-earth orbit. Skylab is in low-earth orbit. But objects placed in synchronous orbit remain there indefinitely. In other words, you would have to say, ‘Is the moon coming to earth?’ Very unlikely.”
Glaser is quick to emphasize that the $25 million appropriation from Congress, if it comes through (the Senate has yet to consider its version of the House bill), will be used not for the development of the satellites themselves but for a three-to-five-year study to determine if we should move ahead with satellite solar power. To critics of the system like New York Representative Richard Ottinger, who cast the lone nay vote on the House Science Committee, the distinction that Glaser stresses is insignificant. “Once these big space contractors get their nose in the trough, they’re never going to get it out,” Ottinger charged in a recent MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Ottinger appeared opposite Dr. Glaser and Democratic Representative Ronnie Flippo, sponsor of the House bill (A large number of aerospace industries are located in Flippo’s Alabama district.)