cover image Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military

Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang. Norton, $30 (576p) ISBN 978-0-393-06444-5

In this comprehensive history of astrophysics–military collaboration, astrophysicist Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry) and researcher Lang explore how two causes use similar tools for different ends. Over the centuries, the authors write, scientists and warmakers “have more often been in sync than at odds.” Sometimes they’re sides of the same coin, as, for instance, “astrophotography and photoreconnaissance differ only in their choice of target.” From the first telescopes to present-day satellites, the coevolution of science and war has frequently resulted in valuable inventions, like GPS, “whose value to the U.S. economy will soon be upwards of $100 billion” annually. Tyson’s own experience of attending an astrophysics conference in 2003, and realizing how many of the companies present had also contributed to the Iraq invasion, further illustrates the book’s point. While acknowledging how science has enabled war, as with the development of the atomic bomb, the authors argue astrophysics can also be a way to peace. Ventures such as mining asteroids for scarce resources, which could “erase a perennial rationale for war,” are one possibility. But they caution that “weaponization arrives close on the heels of militarization” in space. Well paced and skillfully written, the narrative seamlessly integrates science lessons, military strategy, and world history—surely suiting military and science buffs alike. (Sept.)