Satellite shot. Did U duck?

John Taylor: February 21, 20080 Comments

In the mosquito-swatting simmer of July 1979, I glanced skyward and continued to install a storm window in the tiny Milwaukee, Wis., bungalow I called home. Skylab was coming down, but there was work to do.

So, what did you do the other day when you heard the U.S. Navy was sending a multi-million-dollar missile into space to destroy/divert a miscreant billion-dollar spy satellite? And, what are you doing to prepare for bits of debris, toxic trailings descending along with the usual deluge of particulate matter from bonehead burners on Valley no-burn days?

Nada? Me, too. I dodge foul balls and hornets, and not much more. I worry about idiots driving in the fog with headlights off and doorbells rung late at night, and not much more.

When I recall the plunge of Skylab, a U.S. space station, I think of young, smart entrepreneurs -- otherwise know as bored fellow journalists working the night shift at the now-defunct Milwaukee Sentinel.

A small group of "investors," led by Scott Swanson, pooled their money. They bought a business license, purchased scads of orange "crash" helmets, stenciled "Skylab" in black letters, hired an artist and created silver labels that showed a faux-fowl critter under the heading "Chicken Little Was Right" and hiked out to a Lake Michigan summer festival -- and sold each and every one.  Yep, the much-mocked investors made enough money to throw a bodacious party.

What will be the main memory of this fallen spy satellite? Proof that Reagan-esque "Star Wars" or "Star Shield" is now real? I can tell you some secondary memories of Skylab. Some space station debris landed in Australia, where a provincial government fined the U.S. for littering ($400, unpaid as best I know). And, in case I see some flaming trouble come, I still have my Skylab crash helmet.