Doom! Spy satellite falling to Earth

Watch out!

Published January 28, 2008 5:45PM (EST)

I'm in the jury assembly room of the San Francisco Hall of Justice (mandatory public service is such a rush!), and somewhere up above me -- and up above you, too -- an experimental American spy satellite is fixing to end my life.

It's fixing to end yours, too, although to put it that way injects perhaps more drama into the situation than there is -- the satellite is out of control, it's got no specific designs on any one of us, but when it comes hurtling at the planet sometime during the next few weeks, it could just as easily get you as me. So, you know, watch out!

The government won't give details about the satellite -- Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, will only tell the press that "appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation" -- but aerospace experts tell the New York Times that the satellite is an "experimental imagery satellite built by Lockheed Martin and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2006."

Controllers lost contact with that satellite shortly after it reached orbit; since then, it's been decaying in space. Though aging satellites routinely fall to earth, usually burning up on re-entry without hurting anyone, this particular satellite has an unused fuel tank; if it survives re-entry, the fuel could hurt someone on the ground.

So I'll say it again: Watch out!

By the way, the NYT's headline has got to be the scariest thing I've read in weeks: "U.S. Spy Satellite, Power Gone, May Hit Earth."

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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