Forget cutbacks on bathroom cleanings at national parks or the furlough of thousands of government workers. Perhaps the greatest vulnerability the sequester has opened up is the threat of extraterrestrial destruction.
That’s right. This week, the Air Force announced that it is prepared to shut down its Space Surveillance System come October as it seeks to comply with sequester cuts in its 2014 budget. According to the press release, the Air Force will save $14 million a year from cutting a program that uses radar to detect meteors entering the atmosphere, such as the one that injured 1,000 in Russia in February, or debris that can damage our satellite systems. The news site Military.com says the system has the capability “to locate threats as small as a basketball.” So we can assume it could also detect an incoming alien spacecraft.
At this point in the end-of-the-world movie, the Jeff Goldblum character would rush to the general’s or president’s office, shouting emotionally that we can’t ignore the chance that destruction will rain down from outer space. (In typical fashion, the general or president would flippantly point to the nation’s nuclear arsenal to solve any space-related problem.) After all, Military.com reports that last year the Air Force called the program “a critical defense system [that] shall be manned on a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year basis.”
But the Air Force backs down from that assessment in Tuesday’s release, saying the space monitor is an aging system with an “inherent inaccuracy,” and that it is just one of many space-monitoring programs. (According to Space News, it accounts for 40 percent of the Air Force’s space monitoring.)
The AFSSS, which has been operational since 1961, is just one part of AFSPC’s global Space Surveillance Network. The system is designed to transmit a “fence” of radar energy vertically into space to detect all objects intersecting that fence. The operational advantage of the AFSSS is its ability to detect objects in an un-cued fashion, rather than tracking objects based on previous information. The disadvantage is the inherent inaccuracy of the data, based on its dated design.
To cope with the shutdown, the Air Force is looking to ramp up other components of its space-monitoring apparatus. And new space-monitoring technology is on the horizon. A newfangled “Space Fence” is under development by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin (and supposed to be in use by 2017), but the Air Force has yet to award the contract. Once in place, that system will be able to monitor 200,000 objects in space, according to Raytheon press materials. The current system can monitor about 20,000.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."