One shot was all it took for the Pentagon to decommission with extreme prejudice a spy satellite that first failed to operate and then started on a steady descent toward Mother Earth.
A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) streaked skyward from the USS Lake Erie late Wednesday and whacked the satellite while it was still 130 or so miles up in space--and whizzing along at 17,000 miles per hour.
Defense Department officials quickly pronounced the mission a success, not just in hitting the satellite at all, but also in apparently rupturing its fuel tank. The rationale for the target shoot was the possibility that the satellite's 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a hazardous substance, might be dispersed by a crash-landing in a populated area.
In a briefing Thursday morning, Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited three pieces of evidence: a fireball, a vapor cloud, and results from spectral analysis.
"We're very confident that we hit the satellite. We also have a high degree of confidence that we got the tank," Cartwright said.
The Pentagon has made several videos available so far, including the silent short "Missile Intercept." Another short (1 minute) version includes voice-over by Cartwright, and a much longer one (28 minutes) carries his full press conference.