The Aegis class cruiser Lake Erie ("Courage, Determination, Peace" reads her shield) was pitching and rolling in heavy seas west of Hawaii on the night of Feb. 20. Her mission was to shoot down a disabled satellite that was tumbling toward the Earth's atmosphere. The spy satellite carried a toxic fuel, hydrazine, that might, on the off chance it hit a populated area, have posed health risks. The deadline for action was March 1, as the bus-sized craft would bounce against the outer reaches of the atmosphere on that date, thus sending it into a more erratic orbit. Apparently, the firing window was only about 30 seconds long. At 10:30 p.m. eastern time, the USS Lake Erie was able to fire an SM-3 missile 150 miles into space and score a direct hit on a target that was traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. A fireball and vapor cloud testified to success.
General rejoicing? Not exactly. The Washington Post reports that "Scientists, arms-control advocates and others said the shoot-down was based on questionable modeling by the government of the risks to human health and was a danger to the future peaceful use of space."
Questionable modeling? Aren't these the same people who argue that we must all abandon our passenger cars because computer modeling suggests the world may be getting a bit warmer? As for arms-control advocates, wonder where they were back in January 2007 when China blew up a satellite that was orbiting the Earth? The Chinese were obviously testing military technology as the weather satellite they destroyed was in no danger of plunging to Earth. Further, the satellite was orbiting at an altitude of 537 miles. Its destruction therefore spread debris through space, complicating the orbits of other satellites. But the arms-control advocates were quiet.
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