Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Basics, Pt 2: Why?

Being able to get a job living on a tropical atoll in the middle of the pacific ocean is all well and good for me, and the others that work here, but what does the US Army see in this place? Why are they here? Why are they paying me to be here?

To put it simply, we are here for target practice.

Test warheads from an LGM-118A Peacekeeper ICBM landing in the atoll

In decades past, this atoll was used for calibration and tracking research for ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles). Missiles would be launched from various missile bases in the continental United States, pointed in our direction. Once they landed here, we'd tell the people in the US exactly where the dummy warheads landed, essentially to allow them to dial in their aim.

These days, ICBMs are so accurate that it's largely pointless; the fact that they usually carry nuclear warheads means that anything within half a mile is probably good enough.

So the roll of Kwajalein has changed a good deal over the years; moving from it's initial roll as a logistics staging point during World War 2 to it's current position as one of the locations in the Ballistic Missile Defense Test site. These days, most of the work is in cutting-edge radar, optics, telemetry and space research.

The majority of the day-to-day stuff involves lots of tracking and monitoring of "space junk", the various detritus that's been left in orbit by decades of rocket launches around the world. And while most of the work is looking at stuff others have launched, occasionally we will launch something of our own.

In addition to the various things the Army launches from here, Space-X has their launch facility on one of the islands in the atoll. They're not as active out here as they used to be, but they still maintain a presence and continue to rent hanger space, and maintain their equipment.

And all of those activities; Launching rockets, landing rockets, basting out megawatts of electromagnetic radiation, they share a common requirement. You want them to happen as far away from anything else as they can possibly be.

And that's why they're here. Because this little spec of land, surrounded by 2,000 miles of ocean on all sides, is as far away from anything else as they can possibly be.

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