Friday, March 12, 2004
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: DEPLOYMENT IS ON SCHEDULE, BUT WILL IT WORK?
A GAO report released yesterday points out that the components of the mid-course ground-based system have not been tested in "its deployed configuration." Many problems, such as finding warheads in a field of decoys, multiple interceptor launches, nighttime intercepts, adverse weather, and finding missiles without homing beacons have not been tested at all. Nevertheless, the Missile Defense Agency says it will put a covey of interceptors in Alaska as early as July. The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of Congress, which is controlled by the Republicans. But yesterday it was Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee who focused on the testing issue. The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Pentagon admitted that the system is not even far enough along to use Pentagon computer programs that would indicate whether it would actually work.
2. DEPLOY NOW, TEST LATER: WE CAN’T SIT AROUND UNTIL THINGS WORK.
With the administration requesting $10.2B for missile defense next year, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) questioned whether deployment would violate a 1983 federal law passed after Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative. The law requires new weapons systems to be tested under realistic conditions before going into mass production. The Soviets had vast fleets of sophisticated ICBMs armed with hydrogen warheads. SDI never came close to being a credible defense. But what’s the urgency now? The Alaska site could only defend against North Korea, which might be able to set off a nuclear explosion, but would be hard put to build a warhead for an ICBM -- if they had an ICBM -- and they know they’d be toast if they tried to use it. Against this awesome threat we need to spend $100B on an untested defense?
3. HUBBLE REPRIEVE? NASA ADMINISTRATOR SAYS "NOT ON MY WATCH."
There was brief joy among astronomers yesterday when they heard the news that NASA had agreed to have the National Academy of Sciences consider the decision to cancel another Hubble repair mission on safety grounds. But later in the day, Sean O’Keefe, the NASA Administrator, punched a hole in their canoe. He made it clear that while he was willing to have experts look at the decision, there was nothing they could say that would change his mind. I called Ann Thropojinic, a veteran astronaut at NASA Headquarters, to help me understand this. "You scientists just don’t get it, do you?" she sighed. "People don’t care what’s going on 13 billion light years away. They want to know how you eat spaghetti in zero gravity. You should have thought about that before you let Hubble go up without a permanent crew."