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America is From Mars, Iran is Not

How worried should we be about Iran and its raging president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Can developments on Mars or in other locations in outer-space help us ward off the danger? This is not a facetious question.

It is quite clear that the ayatollahs are determined to acquire nuclear weapons. In the face of this challenge, and assuming that diplomacy fails to stop them, we are likely to have two non-exclusive options: strike at their nuclear facilities or build defensive systems like the Airborne Laser.

But from time to time, it helps to step back from the intricate problems connected with either option and remind ourselves of the essential nature of this conflict. That essential nature is asymmetric, and here is where Mars and outer space come in.

In January 2004, we landed two mobile vehicles on the surface of Mars to explore the planet. Both had ninety-day warranties, and were thought likely to fail shortly thereafter. Three years later, both rovers are going strong.

One of them–Opportunity–has driven more than six miles across a rocky plain to arrive early last month at the edge of the Victoria Crater, 2,500 feet wide and 230 feet deep. Opportunity is now beginning a dangerous descent into the crater to see what it can find. The other craft–Spirit–is on the opposite side of the planet, in an area dubbed Silica Valley (the soil is rich in that substance) grinding up rocks to see what is inside.

Closer to home, but still quite far away, is our Lacrosse-2. This reconnaissance satellite was launched in 1991 and has been wrapped in deep secrecy ever since. But the Russian military has now taken photographs of it, giving us a fuller picture of its capabilities. Aviation Week & Space Technology (AWST) tells us, among other things, that Lacrosse-2 has the capability to capture images of objects on earth, even at night and through clouds, that are as small as a chair.

Five Lacrosse satellites were launched, with three currently in orbit, making eight to nine overflights of Iran every day. AWST also tells us that they “are used to see potential terrorist vechicles operating in isolated areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Such vehicles are sometimes attacked using data” from the satellites’ radar. In addition to Lacrosse-2, there are other even more advanced reconnaisance satellites up there as well.

American scientists and engineers are truly miracle makers. Of course, as we know, there are many security problems that technology cannot solve. But in thinking about the challenges posed by the ayatollahs, we should not forget that the United States is a superpower, in engineering and in many other realms.

If we are politically serious about stopping the ayatollahs from developing nuclear weapons, one way or another, we can clean their clock. We need to remind ourselves of this more often, and we need to remind the ayatollahs as well.



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