Sunday, February 17, 2008

Poison fuel

You've heard about the U.S. spy satellite that's headed towards the ground. As Edison Carter used to say in "Max Headroom", what I wanna know is this: why is it that news stories these days have all got to have a scary health threat angle? Here's what I'm talking about:
One shot. That's all the military hopes it will take to bring down a dying, out-of-control, school bus-sized U.S. spy satellite loaded with toxic fuel and on a collision course with Earth.

As if a school bus-sized satellite travelling at 17,000 miles an hour landing on your house isn't enough of a worry!
Military and administration officials said the satellite is carrying 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a fuel that could injure or even kill people who are near it when it hits the ground.

Not to mention the school bus-sized body of the satellite that could injure or even seriously kill people who are near it when it hits the ground! Sheesh! They make it sound like the satellite is just going to drop off the back of a truck and that the real threat is the projected reduction in average life expectancy of the neighbors in the 10 square mile vicinity of the crash.
Officials compared the effects of hydrazine fuel to chlorine or ammonia. "It affects your tissues and your lungs - it has the burning sensation," Cartwright said. "If you stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it, it could in fact be deadly."

Holy cow! Are you kidding??!! Especially if it lands right on top of your head!!! Then it might really hurt you!!!!
Experts on military satellites agreed that hydrazine could pose a serious health hazard, although even Cartwright said it probably would be spread over an area the size of only two football fields if it hit the Earth.

My god! It doesn't quit! No mention of the crater that will form when the satellite hits the ground, or the spectacular fireball, or efforts to alert the people in the satellite's projected crash zone. It's the bleeping toxic fuel and the "serious health hazard"!

Do the public relations people at the newspapers or TV stations really believe that we have become so longevity-conscious and so public health-care cost-conscious that the little matter of a 5,015 pound (2,275 kilograms; have to be metrically and avoirdupois-ally correct here at The Town Crank!) satellite traveling at 17,000 mph arriving at ground zero with a kinetic energy of approximately 66 GigaJoules of energy is insignificant? Like, that's as much energy as 31,400 pounds of TNT (source: MegaConverter2)! Isn't that, like, bad for your health?


Brian Dunbar said...

Most of the satellite is going to burn up during re-entry or break down into smaller chunks of course. Still not great but not so bad either.

Steve Erbach said...


Yes, yes! But you're missing the sardonic point I'm trying to make, dear boy! It isn't the threat of a release of kinetic energy equivalent to thousands of pounds of TNT that the newsies focus on. Oh, no! It's the possibility that somebody might inhale hydrazine fumes and get a nasty cough!

Steve Erbach
The Town Crank

Anonymous said...

Yes, but think of what all that burning hydrazine will do to our global warming problem. That guy who invented the Internet should invent a way to safely bring this stuff down without the big boom. Too bad he's busy trying to figure out what to do about the Stupor Delegates and the big boom that the Reverend Al Sharpton will make when Michigan and Florida are counted... but I digress...

Steve Erbach said...

Hey! Digressions are welcome! As Heinlein said, "Politics is almost as important as your own breathing."

Steve Erbach
The Town Crank

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve - this is Markus. (Too lazy to make a Google ID...)

Hey, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut, I have an observation. When the shuttle blew up five years ago, Donald Rummy said that it couldn't have been terrorism because no government had a missle that could do that. (I'm paraphrasing, obviously.)

Now, here we are. The poison fuel satelite was much higher, much smaller, and moving faster than Columbia. Boom. They hit it on the first try.

Did our technology advance by such leaps in the past few years? Was Rumsfeld bluffing?

Now, I'm not suggesting that the loss of the shuttle was anything other than a tragic accident. Rather, I'm just wondering what other cool stuff we have that doesn't officially exist.

Steve Erbach said...


Undoubtedly there's plenty of stuff. The AEGIS vessel itself is a marvel. It is pretty cool to contemplate the orbital computations that went into scoring a bullseye like this. Sure, the missile was heat-seeking and all; but the combined speed at impact was about 22,000 mph. Not much room for error at those speeds.

Steve Erbach
The Town Crank