So what? It's only a falling satellite

The Baltimore Sun

Here's something that's hard to understand: A damaged U.S. spy satellite is about to fall out of the sky, or maybe get blasted with a missile within days, and no one seems very worried about it.

This really tells you something about the state of worrying these days.

It tells you people are worried about so many other things - the economy, the housing market, tainted meat - that a satellite the size of a school bus landing on their heads is way down the list of things to worry about.

Right now, it seems to rank down there with "Hope the cable doesn't go out during CSI: Miami" or "Ordered stair-stepper on eBay two weeks ago - where is it?"

Even when you tell people the satellite contains 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a hazardous rocket fuel that can kill if you inhale it, people don't seem that worried.

You'd think it was Febreze they'd be breathing in.

Maybe some of you are comforted by news that the government plans to shoot down the satellite with a missile from a warship, but I'm not.

Look, I saw the way the government responded to another little crisis we had: Hurricane Katrina.

Here was this huge storm that wiped out New Orleans and displaced thousands, and they were pulling bodies out of cars and houses and plucking people off rooftops, and Washington's response was: "Oh, is there something going on down there? Shoot us a memo, will you? We'll get back to you in a few days."

I just hope it isn't former FEMA boss Michael Brown lining up those missile coordinates. Because we'd probably fire the missile a week after the satellite crashed and caused massive destruction.

And when we did fire it, we'd probably hit Las Vegas by accident.

Another reason the government being involved isn't comforting is that our military guys are not exactly sounding confident about this missile strike.

A few days ago, for instance, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that it's difficult to not only hit the satellite, but also to know the best time to shoot it.

"It's a bit of an imprecise science at this point," added the director, Army Lt. Gen. Carter F.Ham.

Does that sound reassuring to you?

No, me neither.

Sounds like they're dusting off their excuses already.

OK, we're going to shoot a missile up there, y'know, into the sky and hope we hit this thing. But if we miss, and it comes crashing down in the middle of Baltimore, hey, don't blame us. We said this wasn't a piece of cake.

Actually, I'm just hoping the government is a little more competent going after this satellite than it was going after that runaway asteroid in the movie Armageddon.

Remember that entertainment gem from 10 years ago?

An asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling toward the Earth. It'll destroy the planet. Naturally, only one man can save us: Bruce Willis.

All Willis, playing hard-core oil driller Harry Stamper, has to do is land on the asteroid with his team of wisecracking misfits, drill a hole, plant a nuclear bomb and get out of there before the thing blows up.

It's a race against time, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, etc.

But it was Stamper's conversation with the government guy, NASA administrator Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), that comes to mind now that we're talking about blasting a spy satellite.

Stamper: "What's your contingency plan?"

Truman: "Contingency plan?"

Stamper: "Your backup plan. You gotta have some kind of backup plan, right?"

Truman: "No, we don't have a backup plan."

Stamper: "And this is the best that the government - the U.S. government - could come up with? ... You're telling me you don't have a backup plan, that these eight Boy Scouts right here, that is the world's hope, that's what you're telling me?"

Truman: "Yeah."

So memo to the Pentagon: If this missile strike goes south, have a Plan B, OK?

Maybe something with lasers. Or a big net to catch the satellite before it crashes.

Think outside the box with this one.

Not that we're that worried about it.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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