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.
The New York Times labeled the idea "a pipe dream, a projection of fantasy into policy." Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis was equally dismissive. He called SDI "a fantasy -- a technological illusion which most scientists say cannot be achieved in the foreseeable future. The defenses they envision won't make the United States more secure "
But hitting a bullet with a bullet has become almost routine. On Sept. 28, 2007, also high above the Pacific Ocean (75 miles), another "Star Wars fantasy" vehicle successfully destroyed the mock warhead of a long-range missile. Many other recent tests have shown similar success. In fact, the U.S. is joined by 30 other nations who are working on missile defense systems. For those whose delicate constitutions forbid them to take comfort in military strength, they may consider that this same technology may one day save Earth from a catastrophic meteor strike.
Contra Ted Koppel, our capability to shoot hurtling satellites (and more dangerous flying objects) out of the sky did not cost trillions of dollars. According to the Associated Press, since 1983, we've spent approximately $100 billion on missile defense, a small percentage of overall defense spending during that period.
It turns out that American ingenuity can hit a bullet with a bullet. But there is still no cure for liberal shortsightedness.