From NBC News' "Space Analyst" (I guess "reporter" sounded too down-to-earth), we learn that there is an evil gun orbiting the earth, and we (this means you) should be worried. Our concerned space analyst breathlessly informs us that
For decades, the standard Soyuz survival pack has included a gun. And not just any gun, but a deluxe all-in-one weapon with three barrels and a folding stock that doubles as a shovel and contains a swing-out machete. Three types of ammunition — rifle bullets, shotgun shells and flares — come in a belt attached to the gun.That evil gun! Its mere presence is a disaster waiting to happen! Gee, a hoplophobic reporter wets his pants just thinking that there might be an evil gun orbiting the earth. Yawn.
Plans are to use it only in special circumstances on return to Earth — but in space, on occasion, plans have a way of turning out very differently. The presence of the gun, especially in light of recent space team psychological problems, may be an invitation to a future disaster. [emphasis added throughout]
Now, let’s see if other standard gun-control arguments apply in the (literal) vacuum of space. First, we all know that you don't really need a gun, because help is but a (sat)phone call away:
Guns were never carried aboard U.S. spacecraft. Instead, a sharp machete served as the most serious armament for a jungle landing. Besides, with a worldwide U.S. network of bases and existing air-sea rescue forces, odds were that any downed astronauts would be found and rescued pretty quickly. The same now goes for Soyuz spacecraft supporting the international space station and usually carrying an U.S. crewmember at launch and landing — any off-course vehicle would have the entire U.S. rescue team at their disposal almost immediately. But the legend of the hungry wolves trumps current realities, so the guns have remained.This is the space equivalent of “just call 9-1-1”. And remember: guns bad, machetes good. Got that? The mere presence of a gun will seduce astronauts with its wily mechanical charms to commit evil, but the mere presence of a much less sexy machete will not.
Next argument: only special government-paid elites should have guns:
And here’s the safety issue that nobody seems to want to talk about. As the space station crew size increases, with a much wider range of crew members (including paying passengers, either tourists or representatives of national research groups from Malaysia, Chile, Venezuela or elsewhere), everyone on board will have access to the gun in the Soyuz. By 2009 there will always be two Soyuzes attached, so two guns will be available.Obviously, we can’t let all these non-ivy league educated foreigners near the evil gun. Heck, our government trained elites can barely control themselves in its presence. How will mere mortals? And two guns? Double the evil -- practically irresistable!
"What can we do, Dave?" you ask. Well, for starters, how about some "reasonable, common sense" gun-control measures. For example, as our intrepid space analyst eagerly recommends from his perch in the evidently high altitude, low oxygen environment of the NBC newsroom:
At the very least, the survival kit needs to be locked, with the key (or combination) in the possession of the capsule commander. The very presence of the gun probably also needs to be reviewed again, to determine if it is a critical piece of safety gear or a space disaster just waiting to go off.Hmmm. Locking the survival kit, so no one except an extra-special elite (the "super-elite") can access the life-saving emergency supplies. Maybe that’s not such a good idea, particularly in, say, an emergency, but then again, I'm no space analyst. But if it’ll stop access to the evil gun, if it saves just one life, we should do it. Right?
The next Soyuz launch is set for April 8. The handgun is probably already packed. If Moscow wants to show it is really serious about keeping space “weapons-free,” and keeping orbiting astronauts and cosmonauts free of too-easy access to lethal weapons, the gun ought to be removed. Carry a machete, carry a Taser — but stop carrying guns into space.Space – the Final
[Fabulous space photos courtesy The Hubble Heritage Project]