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Shooting Down Ailing US Spy Satellite Fraught With Exigency


By James Donahue


So the United States military has decided to shoot down a defective spy satellite before it falls to earth with over 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel on board. The concern is that the satellite, about the size of a bus, could cause havoc and death if it hits a populated area and explodes.


The thought of a heavy piece of equipment with that much explosive fuel on it falling out of control to Earth on about March 6 is disconcerting, since no one knows for sure just where the thing is going to strike. But the idea of shooting it out of the sky before it comes down also is raising alarm.


The Russian Defense Ministry last week said the plan is merely a veiled test of America’s missile defense system to see if the US has the capability of destroying satellites owned by other countries.


Indeed, the Russians may have it right. High military brass at the Pentagon are probably itching for a chance to try out any new anti-satellite missile defense systems they have developed, especially after China successfully shot one of its own weather satellites out of space in January, 2007.


That shot successfully hit and destroyed the satellite, but it created so much excess space junk that world governments reacted with alarm, condemning China for littering an already polluted parameter of our planet and putting future space exploration in greater peril than it already was.


From that exchange there appeared to have emerged an agreement among world governments, and especially among those nations interested in sending satellites and humans into space, that there will be no further destruction of satellites by missiles.


So now the United States is offering an excuse to do the very thing we condemned China for doing just one year ago. Is it necessary? Is the danger from that falling satellite so great that it needs to be shot out of the sky? And it we destroy it, are we not creating another batch of space debris doomed to forever circle our planet?


Here is what we know.


The spy satellite, identified only as US 193, was launched in December, 2006. It failed almost immediately, losing power and its central computer going down. The massive hulk has been drifting out of control ever since, and slowly migrating closer and closer to Earth for an eventual re-entry. It is expected to come down in a fiery crash on about the first week in March.


On board is some sophisticated and secret spy equipment that we are sure our military wants to make sure never gets into the hands of other nations. While the heat of re-entry is expected to burn away much of the 5,000-pound spacecraft, the core of it is expected to survive long enough to hit the ground, perhaps scattering debris over hundreds of miles.


Of course the odds are very good that the thing will fall somewhere in an ocean, since most of our planet is covered by water. 


If the fuel doesn’t burn on re-entry, the destruction of the satellite also could release a toxic gas, authorities warn.


The plan is to use the missile to hit US 193 when it is just starting its fall, thus assuring that the debris from the blast will not remain in space, but fall to Earth and hopefully most of it burn up during re-entry.


Do we have missiles sophisticated enough to accomplish such a task? And if we do, the secret will certainly be known to the world after we use one to successfully hit this satellite.


If we miss the target, that information will also be of great interest to other world military leaders.