By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
Tom Clancy couldn’t make this stuff up; even Buck Rogers would be hard pressed to deliver on it: take out a spherical toxic fuel tank–about 36 inches wide in a failing 5,000-pound spy satellite the size of a school bus hurtling toward earth about 150 miles up–with a single shot from a Standard Missile 3 that was initially designed to intercept a ballistic projectile in flight, not a spacecraft. And if you miss, 1,000 pounds of deadly hydrazine, a lethal fuel used to maneuver the errant satellite launched in December, 2006, will be spread out over “an area the size of two football fields, and anyone caught in it could suffer lung damage and possibly die, warns Graham Candler, a University of Minnesota aerospace engineering professor, in a USA Today report.
You won’t have to wait for the DVD. The Pentagon, in spite of international protests and second-guessing in the homeland, plans to fire the intercept this week from a navy cruiser in the North Pacific. Sounding like roughneck Harry Stamper (the indefatigable Bruce Willis), who “never, never missed a depth that I have aimed for, and by God, I am not going to miss this one,” President Bush gave the order Thursday.
“This is all about trying to reduce danger to human beings,” asserted James Jeffrey, deputy national security advisor.
Well, not exactly, say critics, borrowing a line from the movie Independence Day when it was determined the government had lied about an alien presence at Area 51 in Roswell, New Mexico. Detractors and some foreign governments insist the U.S. is just showing off—an excuse to test an emergent anti-satellite weapon, rather than saving innocent lives or shielding classified information, a show of American muscle that could set back disarmament talks the U.S. seems to be resisting. “Similar spacecraft re-enter the atmosphere regularly and break up into pieces,” reports the Associated Press, quoting Ivan Oelrich, vice president for strategic security programs at the Federation of American Scientists.
Perhaps Bush is trying to prove he’s a better shot than Dick Cheney. Be that as it may, there is enough intrigue in this plot over the demise of spy satellite US 193 to spin off sequels in the way of more space junk. While most of the debris, if lightening strikes its mark, is expected to burn up in the atmosphere, some is sure to add to the collateral damage floating in space–estimated at more than a million bits of wreckage with more than 10,000 assorted pieces of junk of all sizes in low orbit whizzing around at average speeds up about 22,000 miles-an-hour. Fast-forward to the next generation of communication and spy satellites and the earth begins to resemble an asteroid belt.
So next time you gaze up at the sky on a starry night, realize you’re looking into the landfill and shooting gallery of the future. Aim straight, George, and you’ll win a stuffed doll.