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Pentagon Plans to Shoot Down Broken Spy Satellite

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Pentagon Plans to Shoot Down Broken Spy Satellite

U.S.

Pentagon Plans to Shoot Down Broken Spy Satellite

Pentagon Plans to Shoot Down Broken Spy Satellite

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/19055519/19055470" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The White House has ordered the military to shoot down a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite that is expected to crash to Earth within the next three weeks. The decision was made after the Pentagon determined that the satellite could pose a health risk if it hits a populated area. But the chances of the satellite hitting a person are miniscule, so why destroy it?

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says potential hydrazine exposure is the issue.

Hydrazine is a propellant fuel used aboard rockets. It's toxic — similar to ammonia or chlorine. But to die from hydrazine exposure would require standing around and breathing it in for hours. And it dissipates and evaporates rapidly.

Skeptics of the Pentagon's decision to knock the satellite out of the sky suspect it has less to do with safety and more to do with keeping classified technology out of the hands of foreign competitors. The Pentagon denies that.