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Satellite shoot was Thursday

February 25, 2008

by Roz Kohls
A Navy cruiser in the Pacific Ocean shot down a school-bus-sized US satellite loaded with hazardous rocket fuel early Thursday.

The satellite was out of control, and falling to the earth on or about March 6, and no one could predict where it might have fallen. It might have fallen on a heavily populated area.

The Pentagon said it decided to use a modified, ship-fired anti-ballistic missile to destroy it. The tank in the satellite contained 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a toxic gas that could cause fatal injuries to people in an area the size of two football fields, according to the Feb. 15 Washington Post.

Hydrazine is similar to chlorine or to ammonia, in that, when inhaled, it affects lung tissue, according to the Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. The Pentagon wanted the Raytheon SM-3 missile to destroy the tank full of hydrazine high above the earth, so it burned up before it fell to the ground, or have it fall with the rest of the debris into the Pacific Ocean, where there are no people.

People the world over should be thankful the United States has a way to protect humans from this potential disaster, but some are not.

Some anti-military types immediately jumped to the conclusion the US had an ulterior motive. The US had found a sneaky way to test its controversial missile defense system against a satellite target, they say.

“There has to be another reason behind this,” said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a liberal arms-control advocacy organization.

“In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by man-made objects falling from space,” Krepon added.

However, the Standard Missile-3 already has been successfully tested against warhead targets which are far smaller than this satellite.

In addition, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin said the US notified the public about the shoot-down, which is required by treaties and law, so it was not a secret.

The US and Soviet Union conducted high-altitude, anti-satellite tests in the mid-1980s, but stopped when they realized the debris became a danger to other spaceships and satellites.

“The lower we can catch this, the quicker the debris re-enters,” Griffin said.

The missile was developed primarily against a low altitude warhead. Also, the program controlling the shoot-down was modified so much it wouldn’t work as a military test of the system, according to Cartwright.

More than half the pieces will burn up before making two revolutions around the earth. The fuel tank, however, wasn’t going to break up on re-entry like the other pieces. The tank needed to be destroyed in space.

I’ve never understood how peaceniks can be so sure having a strong defense will invite our enemies to attack us. It seems more likely the opposite would be true.

Krepon and his followers, however, would rather take the chance of poison fuel suffocating people somewhere, than have our enemies get the idea we can defend ourselves.