Good News, Bad News
Since the beginning of time, that old precursor..."I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news.." has always been met with trepidation, at best. There is the traditional offering of taking the bad news first, or vice-versa for those who save their vegetables for the end of the meal. I like to get the bad news, and the vegetables, out of the way. You know, save the best for last. And so it has always been, but there is a completely different dynamic to the "good news, bad news" paradigm when the announcement comes from the federal government. The cynic in us, already raw and inflamed from the presidential primaries, worries that it is more likely to be a "bad news, bad news" formula.
So it was just a few short days ago when an announcement from the National Security Council warned, well, not really warned, more like "mentioned", that an out-of-control U.S. spy satellite would soon be falling to Earth. Typical of our security agencies, they are most concerned with sensitive data falling into the wrong hands. I understand that "falling" into the wrong hands is an easy joke, but it's late, and I'm tired. Intelligence expert John Pike says satellites are usually dumped in the ocean in a controlled re-entry and then scooped up before anyone else can get it or a huge fish eats it or drug smugglers hit it and damage their boat. This scenario fits nicely into one of my comedy bits about how NASA, for all their high-technology, always seems to combine some back-yard mechanics into their space program somehow. It's as though Albert Einstein and Goober built a space ship together. I mean, they're always talking about pieces of "foam" hitting the space shuttle. Why are we still building spacecraft with foam? Anyhow, I digress, and the bottom line is that we still can't "land" a satellite returning from its years of diligent duty spent spying on people from space. It must be fun guiding one in, like a really high-stakes video game..."try to hit Newark!!" "No! I can't do that! We're supposed to put it in the ocean!"
The loveable part of the runaway satellite story is the way the government always tries to play it down. "The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where it might land..." Could contain hazardous materials? They're not sure? Did someone else visit the satellite in space and possibly put things in it that were not in it when it was launched? The astronomical practical joker? The outer-space equivalent of leaving a bag of dog poop on your neighbors porch? More calming announcements followed: "Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation" said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the NSC. Whew! I was just about to worry. With any luck at all, these are the same agencies that were watching Hurricane Katrina as it approached Louisiana, or the same agencies that failed to pay their phone bills and had their wiretapping operation shut down, or sat scratching their heads at Islamic flight students who didn't "need to learn how to land the plane.."
What is more amazing than the thought of a satellite that is the size of a small bus and is going to drop to Earth soon, is the cavalier attitude with which an entity that is best known for their dismal performance at everything they do, telling us all not to worry. "You little people just keep busy..." Hey, sorry I got all worked up over nothing. They will probably hire banner-towing planes instructing people to "watch here". As with all government press releases in situations like these, there is always the cherry that goes on top. "We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause..." Hmmm...probably a huge pancake spatula to pick up the unlucky soul who wasn't "looking up", as instructed.