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March 26, 2019

Another Reason to Back the Space Force

We have an interest in defending against adversaries on earth and maybe even space rocks.

President Donald Trump’s decision to create a Space Force within the Department of the Air Force has been a long time coming. Threats to our access to space by Russia and China warrant a response, and the Space Force is a crucial component of that response.

Now, we’ve heard all the bellyaching from leftists about how they oppose the militarization of space, but that starship launched decades ago. When the first communications satellite was put into orbit and used by the military, space became militarized. Now, the only question is who controls it — and the obvious answer should be the United States of America.

But American operations in space must focus beyond earth. The reason is due to what happened over Russia this past December. According to Popular Mechanics, a meteorite exploded about 16 miles above the Kamchatka peninsula with the force of 173 kilotons — at least 10 times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Had that meteorite hit, say, in the infield of Dodger Stadium, it would cause damage to the Silver Lake, Chinatown, and Echo Park neighborhoods of Los Angeles, among other locations. MacArthur Park would be a huge mess. The USC Medical Center would also be damaged, compromising efforts to assist survivors in the city.

Keep in mind, that’s a baby. The Chelyabinsk meteor, which also exploded high above (about 18.5 miles) the earth’s surface, was about two and a half times as powerful. Over 1,200 people were injured in that event six years ago. Center the Chelyabinsk on Dodger Stadium and, well, the USC campus, City Hall, and Union Station would all see the effects of that detonation. That is some unimaginable devastation, death, and suffering.

That is all the bad, scary news. The good news is that almost two decades ago, a successful NASA mission, NEAR-Shoemaker, made the technological breakthroughs that could address this sort of disaster, especially against the larger asteroids capable of causing mass extinctions.

As a 2004 report by Strategypage.com notes, NEAR-Shoemaker successfully intercepted an asteroid, and made a soft landing. The probe then operated for two weeks on the asteroid itself, taking scientific readings and providing tons of data. It was a major success for NASA, but it also was a key breakthrough when it came to protecting the planet (and our existence).

Imagine using a modified version of NEAR-Shoemaker, one that instead of carrying scientific instruments, was instead using the physics package from a B83 gravity bomb. With sufficient lead time, a modified NEAR-Shoemaker probe could be launched, it could intercept the problematic asteroid, and land on it. One signal later, the physics package is activated, and the troublesome rock goes away — or at least is moved out of the way. In any case, the Kamchatka meteor, like the Chelyabinsk one, is a sign that the Space Force’s eyes should be directed not just down to earth, but to space as well.

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