U.S. is burning your money: Space Edition

ART: Satellite that doesn’t want to die

The NY Times recently published a story about U.S. plans to blow up a dead satellite. There are two hilarious snippets from the NYT article I’d like you to read:

President Bush ordered the action to prevent any possible contamination from the hazardous rocket fuel on board, and not out of any concern that parts of the spacecraft might survive and reveal its secrets, the officials said.


The effort will be a real-world test of the nation’s antiballistic missile systems and its antisatellite abilities, even though the Pentagon said it was not using the effort to test its most exotic weapons or send a message to any adversaries.

Even with the NYT’s attempts at providing balance (a.k.a. giving two sides of a story equal weight with no concern for the truth), the official government line sounds ridiculous.

Apparently, I’m not alone in that thinking. The BBC reports that Russia’s defence ministry says the purpose is to test America’s “anti-missile defence system’s capability to destroy other countries’ satellites.”

The Russian defence ministry also echoed my line of thinking: “The decision to destroy the American satellite does not look harmless as they try to claim, especially at a time when the US has been evading negotiations on the limitation of an arms race in outer space.” And while the Russian government is certainly as partisan a source as the U.S. government, their logic is hard to dismiss.

Wired also has some anonymous (a.k.a. fishy) Space security expert that isn’t buying the U.S. government’s explanation:

It is true that hydrazine is very toxic and could result injury or death, but the odds of this happening are minuscule. […] In fact, no one has ever been killed by space debris (I have heard of one or two being struck but only minor injuries). […] Having the US government spend millions of dollars to destroy a billion-dollar failure to save zero lives is comedic gold.

Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright played down the threat from the falling satellite. He said the negative effects from the fuel in the satellite would probably be mild (possibly forcing you to go the doctor) and that the area it could affect would be about 2 football fields in size.

Given the likely threat this satellite poses, the entire test sounds like a colossal waste of money. It will also have the side effect of pissing off both the Russian and Chinese governments. By using supposed “defensive” missiles against a satellite, the U.S. government exposes the dual-purpose of such missile shield technology. The U.S. government’s tizzy about a similar Chinese test also looks extremely patehtic in hindsight.

One thing’s for sure, the race to militarize space is heating up, but with some luck, we won’t waste as much of our resources on it as we did on nuclear weapons.
Flickr photo by Joe Hastings

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