Missile Hits Dead Satellite

Admiral Mike Mullen
Admiral Mike Mullen

By Howard Dashefsky

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Bullseye!  The U.S. Navy's attempt to shoot down a wayward satellite over the Pacific Ocean is dead on target.

The Navy fired a modified interceptor missle from the Pearl Harbor based U.S.S. Lake Erie at about 5:00 p.m. Hawaii time Wednesday.

The U.S. military decided to shoot down the highly classified spy satellite known as USA 193.

The bus-sized satellite went into a virtual coma shortly after it was launched in 2006, and was plummeting to earth with a potentially deadly load of poisonous fuel.

Although it was declared dead shortly after launch, the spy satellite was circling the globe at 17,000 miles per hour.

And it was due to reach earth in less than 2 weeks.

The decision to shoot it down was made after months of meticulous planning and calculations.

Wednesday afternoon at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said the window to fire opened Wednesday morning, with the landing of the space shuttle Atlantis.

"There's been a tremendous amount of focus on this and a lot of work over the past many weeks to learn everything we can to optimize the possibility that we will in fact get a hit when we shoot," said Admiral Mullen.

Due to the curvature of the earth and the distance to the target, 133 miles above sea level, the window to fire was limited to just a matter of seconds each day.

And they weren't just going for the satellite as a whole. They specifically targeted the 4 foot long fuel carrying the poisonous fuel

"And we think taking that step will greatly reduce the probability that there will be any toxic damage or inhalation of that and it would be destroyed before it came back to earth," Mullen said.

Most of the debris will burn up on reentry within 24 - 48 hours.

The remaining debris should re-enter the earth's atmosphere within 40 days.

Mullen also discounted claims the mission was an excuse for the United States to test its missile defense system, or to protect military secrets.

The Pentagon is holding a press conference Thursday morning to discuss the mission.