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Tuesday, 23 April 2002

Despite being a techogeek of the second order, I’ve long been opposed to the Strategic Defense Initiative.  It never made sense to me that a few satellites, or even a few hundred, could protect the country from a missile attack by the Soviet Union.  Suppose the SDI system managed to survive an opening-round EMP pulse (which is highly unlikely) and had to defend against a first strike of 5,000 ICBMs and 30,000 decoys.  Now suppose that the SDI system somehow managed to shoot down 99.5% of the incoming vehicles, warheads and decoys alike.  In that case, 25 missiles would make it through, not to mention 150 decoys, all of which will do at least some kinetic damage when they land.  Oops.

Even today, SDI makes little to no sense no matter what you call it.  If a “rogue state” obtains a nuclear weapon and wants to hit us with it, they’re going to smuggle it into (or even just really close to) America and then set it off.  Why leave a very obvious ballistic trace on NORAD’s radars when you can fly/sail/drive/walk the device up to your target?  The only real purpose to SDI seems to be propping up a few aerospace companies, and maybe making the Chinese more tense.

Now we have one more reason to avoid putting weapons in orbit: post-battle debris.  If you blow up stuff in orbit, it doesn’t just vaporize like in Star Wars—all the shrapnel has to go somewhere.  Like into orbit around the Earth.  We’d get pretty meteor showers for a while, but is that really worth taking down the entire global communications and positioning infrastructure, not to mention imprisoning ourselves on this increasingly stupid planet for several centuries?

What I find really depressing is that it’s probably too late: the technology is available today, assuming you’re satisfied with putting up comparatively crude weapons.  If it hasn’t been done already, it will be done by somebody within the next 50 years or less.  Then everyone else will have to follow suit.

And just to top off a bad situation with a pitch-black cherry: the Orbital Debris Program Office, which is the agency that keeps track of the small-scale junk we’ve already put in orbit, is due to be shut down this year for lack of funding.  Now there’s a good idea.  Hey, why not shut down the air traffic control system while we’re at it?  I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan, either.

I’m beginning to see how Earth eventually becomes the Planet of the Apes.  I just wish the apes weren’t already running the show.

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