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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 27, 2008

Five Myths About the Satellite Smash-Up

I haven't written about the aftermath of the February 20 destruction of the wayward spy satellite USA 193 because I didn't have much of anything informed to say about it. Thankfully, Jim Oberg has just posted a very thoughtful piece on "Five myths about the satellite smash-up," which examines some of the misconceptions about it. He concludes:

What's the harm in just letting all these myths lie? The danger is that the topic of weapons in space is a serious one requiring serious debate, especially in this election year. Hanging onto the technical myths could lead to misconceptions on one side of the debate ("our missiles were so accurate they could make a precision strike on the fuel tank") or the other ("the shootdown created a cloud of toxic debris that's still in orbit").

If we can "shoot down" the fuzzy thinking that has frustrated a serious exchange of views on this important national security issue, that would represent a much more enduring contribution to the safety of this planet than just protecting one random spot from half a ton of plummeting poison.

The story also contains the interesting detail that "As of Tuesday, the Air Force Space Command was reportedly tracking 17 fragments that were still in orbit.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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