February 20, 2008
The Bush administration’s plan to try to shoot down an ailing U.S. spy satellite, perhaps by the time you read this, might be just what the White House says it is: a well-intentioned effort to destroy a school bus-sized contraption carrying toxic fuel before it can threaten lives on the ground.
But because the administration seemed willing as recently as last month to let the satellite plummet to Earth unmolested — figuring that much of it would be burned up in a fiery re-entry and the rest would have little chance of hitting anyone on the planet’s vast expanse — it’s not surprising that the shoot-down plan is generating suspicion. Critics such as Russia’s Defense Ministry say the real motive is to test U.S. space weapons capability.
Taken at face value, the administration’s rationale for shooting down satellite from a ship in the Pacific Ocean makes sense: Why not eliminate the risk, even if it’s a small one, if it can be done safely? The administration has no one but itself to blame, however, for fostering the doubts about its intentions.