Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two deaths ignited a germ warfare crusade

Historic newspaper 1882 - 1990

The death of the Daily News, Western  Australia's afternoon newspaper, and the demise of Sky Lab in the state's desert,  led me to vigorously oppose the use of biological and chemical weapons, and kickstarted my writing career. 

 I had always wanted to write but it wasn't until the newspaper where I worked went into receivership that I started my first novel. Uncertain what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I applied for a job as a governess at Minilya, a sheep and cattle station in the Australian outback. 


The station's proximity to the Carnarvon tracking station-- built in 1963 by NASA for its Gemini program-- jogged my memory about an event that made worldwide headlines: in 1977 Sky Lab, the first US space station fell back to Earth. It's fiery debris was distributed over the West Australian desert. What a gift!                                                               

That night I began writing a science fiction adventure set on a remote sheep station on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. It begins with the US president phoning the Australian prime minister with news that the International Space Station is about to crash into the heart of the country-- on board an experimental bacterium--stored in a thermally controlled Dewar. There's no hope the bio-warfare agent will be destroyed on re-entry.                                                     


You may wonder why scientists were conducting research into germ warfare on board the International Space Station. The truth is that despite the international treaty that outlaws such research, many countries have ignored the pact. Even so, experimentation is invariably conducted in secret restricted locations, the more remote the better. To the ISS partners, the space station fitted the bill.I'd never really thought about the ethics of warfare  before I began researching bacteriological agents. I was horrified 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. 
Ann Massey