Thursday, December 18, 2014

HOW TWO DEATHS LED TO A GERM WARFARE CRUSADE



Historic newspaper 1882 - 1990
 










 
The death of Perth's afternoon newspaper and the demise of Skylab were two events that kick-started my germ warfare crusade. When the newspaper where I'd worked went into receivership, I was uncertain what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. As a stopgap, I applied for a job as a governess at Minilyia, a sheep and cattle station in the Australian outback.

Carnarvon Tracking Station
The station's proximity to the Carnarvon Tracking Station, built in 1963 by NASA for its Gemini program, jogged my memory about an incident that made world headlines. In 1977, Skylab, the first US space station fell back to Earth. Debris was distributed over the West Australian desert. The Examiner, a US newspaper, offered a big reward for the first piece found.  I remember the buzz when  Stan Thornton from tiny town of Esperance  flew off to San Francisco to claim his reward.





Stan Thornton and piece of Skylab
Far from civilization in remote Minilyia there wasn't even television. To entertain my pupils, I began telling them a story based on the Stan Thornton's lucky find.. But to bring the incident up-to-date, I substituted the International Space Station.  And instead of finding the charred remains of the station, in the novel, the young jackeroo discovers a minus 80 degree dewar. The bacteriological warfare bacterium stored inside, active for at least ten years. 

You may wonder why scientists were conducting research into germ warfare on board the International Space Station? The truth is that despite the treaty that outlaws such research, many countries have ignored the pact. Experimentation is invariably carried out in secret locations, the more remote the better and where is more remote and less accessible than the International Space Station?

I had never really thought about the morality of warfare before I began researching bacteriological agents. I was terrified by what I learnt. So much so, that I started this blog. I have been posting articles on the ethics of germ warfare since 2011.

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