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There’s an enormous aversion within the halls of Washington toward anything that smacks of propping up private industry with government guarantees, but it had happened at least once before in history. Colussy worked for Pan American World Airways during the Vietnam War, and he recalled the day Pan Am canceled passenger service out of Saigon because the Vietcong were shooting at planes during takeoff and landing. The State Department wanted Pan Am to continue passenger service to and from Saigon—for symbolic reasons, if nothing else—and the Pentagon needed Pan Am’s charters for rest-and-recreation flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong.

It’s probably impossible. Motorola doesn’t care what happens to the satellites, and apparently no one else does either. Any of a hundred American companies could save Iridium with what amounted to pocket change for them, and yet everyone seemed willing to stand by while the constellation was scrapped. It looked like Iridium was going away and he could go back to the driving range. Then he felt a pang from twenty years ago: it was the pang of losing, and he hated it. Review the evidence one more time, he thought.

What was at stake here was nothing less than one hundred years of scientific and technological development that, if destroyed, might never again be duplicated. The Iridium constellation was something the public probably didn’t even understand. Jaded by the word “satellite,” thinking of them as passive reflectors for their TV signals and technical doodads that floated around in space spying on other countries, the average investor might never get up to speed on what Iridium really was. Even the science-minded probably put these satellites in the same class as the Defense Navigation Satellite System, better known as GPS, which had been in orbit since 1973 but only available to the public since 1988.

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