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U.S. Military Space Plane Returns to Earth After 7 Months in Orbit

Another step towards US ownership of space?

The X-37B, a prototype space plane developed by NASA and the US Air Force, has spent an amazing seven months orbiting the earth before re-entering the planet’s atmosphere and landing on auto-pilot at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early this morning.

It’s the first time in the history of the US space program that a spacecraft has made an autonomous re-entry and landing. The 30-foot long reusable craft is about a quarter of the size of the Space Shuttle and is powered by a solar array and lithium-ion batteries. It is capable of orbiting the earth for up to nine months.

Officials say it can be used to carry out experiments in orbit, but there are widespread concerns– especially overseas– that the X-37B represents the leading edge in America’s quest to militarily dominate outer space.

Although the miltarization of space is banned under the Outer Space Treaty of 1966 and the Space Preservation Treaty of 2006 (both of which the US has signed), Washington has secretly and not-so-secretly drawn up plans to dominate the heavens. The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential group of neo-conservatives who wielded enormous power in the Bush administration, drew up a blueprint for US global domination titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” in 2000. In addition to insuring that no other nation on earth be allowed to rival US conventional and nuclear power, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” also called for “controlling the new ‘international commons’ of space and cyberspace” and the “creation of a new military service– US Space Forces– with the mission of space control.”

An Air Force plan in 2004 called for “deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction” in space. The X-37B could fit in nicely here. It could inspect foreign military satellites or even track and destroy them. is widely believed to be the precursor to a precision global strike vehicle– a space bomber– that would allow the United States to rain down death and destruction literally from the heavens, anywhere on the face of the earth within 90 minutes of receiving orders to attack.

The Air Force is seeking to assuage fears that the X37B will be used for offensive military purposes without actually denying that it would.

“We have a suite of military missions in space and this new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better,” said Gary Payton, the Air Force undersecretary for space programs.

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