|EYES IN THE SKY|
April 19, 1999
JIM LEHRER: The war in Yugoslavia is also being fought from space. Tom Bearden again reports.
TOM BEARDEN: Operation Allied Force's first blows against Yugoslavia were struck by precision weapons guided by spacecraft. Whether they were Tomahawk Missiles fired from ships at sea, or smart bombs dropped from stealth aircraft, they all used the global positioning system, or GPS, to know where they where, and where they were supposed to go. GPS-guided weapons are believed to be among the most effective being used in the Balkans. GPS is a constellation of more than two dozen satellites orbiting 11,000 miles above the earth. Each sends out a precise time signal. GPS receivers lock on to several of these signals, and use them to calculate their precise location on the surface of the earth. GPS has become the backbone of all military operations, from guiding missiles to navigating aircraft to helping soldiers maneuver in a featureless desert, as US troops did in Operation Desert Storm.
SPOKESMAN: We're in the window for 15 minutes.
TOM BEARDEN: The GPS Constellation is maintained by the people in this room at Schreiver Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colorado. It's part of the US Space Command, which oversees the rapidly expanding military use of satellites. While GPS provides the reference points for highly accurate navigation and targeting, it's not always consistent. Variations in orbital paths affect accuracy, and the Air Force has developed a laptop computer program to let local planners know when they can expect maximum GPS precision. Air Force Major Robert Moore works at SPOC, the Space Operations Center.
MAJ. ROBERT MOORE, Space Operations Center: If they're using GPS- guided munitions, they want those munitions to hit within the accuracy of the weapons system. Understanding the configuration of the satellites and how they orbit, and understanding the variations they may get in those accuracies, they want to pick the optimal time to employ those weapons systems, and charts like this provide them that information.
TOM BEARDEN: And this provides them with the accuracy that supports the policy of avoiding collateral damage?
MAJ. ROBERT MOORE: That is correct. That is exactly correct. And in any case we have something of collateral damage, then we will go back and make sure that the accuracy of the system was at its efficiency during that time, so we can calculate out that we had a problem in delivering the accuracy.
TOM BEARDEN: The Pentagon could not say whether GPS inaccuracies played any role in the recent incidents in Yugoslavia and Kosovo where civilians were killed. But the aircraft involved -- indeed, all NATO aircraft -- rely heavily on GPS to navigate to and from their targets. However, GPS-guided munitions are relatively new, and most of the aircraft attacking Kosovo don't carry them yet. Their weapons systems require pilots to actually see their target, and often to illuminate it with a laser. Both the human eye and lasers can be rendered useless by cloud cover, and timely weather information is critical to success. US weather satellites also cris-cross the earth, and Space Command has developed another computer program to show military forecasters when those satellites will be over their heads. Air Force Staff Sergeant James Logan showed us how it works.
SGT. JAMES LOGAN, Space Operations Center: The top is the flat map, with the weather satellite flying over the area. And our target area is shown down here, and the war fighter realizes that at this time, this day, he will have the satellite for approximately 15 minutes in the field of view. And that cues him to have his weather folks stand by with their satellite receivers to recover that image the satellite's sending.
TOM BEARDEN: Local commanders in theaters of operations like Europe or Korea now also have the capability of monitoring the infrared DSP satellites directly. They're called joint tactical ground stations, and can be quickly airlifted to trouble spots to provide theater commanders with immediate warning of incoming ballistic missiles. Another major stride is the ability to send a large amount of information from both space and ground sensors directly to pilots en route to their targets. This allows commanders to actually change a target in mid- mission, something that Space Command's commander, Air Force Major General Rodney Kelly, says wasn't possible a few years ago.
MAJ. GENERAL RODNEY KELLY, Space Operations Center: It's a much greater capability when you can have that flexibility after you take off, whereas years ago, when I flew, if I wasn't able to go to the target that I was given, then I had to abort the mission.
TOM BEARDEN: An Army Space Command Unit is also using space sensors to catalog the earth's surface. They've produced up-to-the- minute, photo-quality maps of Albania and Kosovo. That capability addresses a problem U.S. Troops have often faced in the past: Maps so old that even the courses of rivers had changed. Army Sergeant Nathaniel Rogers showed us how computers can use the satellite data to render visual simulations of terrain.
SGT. NATHANIEL ROGERS, Army Space Command: What we have here is a three- dimensional perspective view, and what this enable us to do is to give a battle visualization, or it helps people understand what the terrain really looks like.
TOM BEARDEN: Space Command is enthusiastically promoting the use of all of these eyes in orbit, but readily concedes they are vulnerable. GPS can be jammed; ground stations can be destroyed; the satellites themselves can be destroyed in launch accidents, or fail to reach orbit. Army Lieutenant Colonel Glen Collins:
LT. COL. GLENN COLLINS: There's always a danger of over-relying upon any capability, especially when your life depends on it. So even a simple analogy of a soldier with an M-16 in his hand, he often has a hand grenade on his belt, and a knife as well. So you shouldn't rely on any one capability too much, because if you rely upon a single point of failure, chances are it will fail, and then people could lose their lives.
TOM BEARDEN: All of the services say these electronic eyes in the high ground of space have now become crucial to the prosecution of war on the ground.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, good-bye to the Great Gretzky, and the Pulitzer Winner for Music.
FOCUS - THE GREAT ONE
JIM LEHRER: Phil Ponce has the Gretzky story.
SPORTSCASTER: Two on one. Gretzky scores!
PHIL PONCE: He's known simply as the "Great One," ice hockey's all- time best. After 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, Wayne Gretzky retired yesterday at the age of 38.
SPORTSCASTER: It's a hat trick for Wayne Gretzky!
PHIL PONCE: The Brantford, Ontario, native holds NHL career records in 61 categories, including goals, assists, most valuable player awards, all-star games, and sportsmanship awards. Gretzky's NHL career began in 1979 with the Edmonton Oilers. He became a star immediately, known for his flair on the ice and brilliant playmaking.
SPORTSCASTER: Wayne Gretzky! Goal 500!
PHIL PONCE: In 1984, the team won the first of four NHL Championships, or Stanley Cups, in the mid-80's.
SPORTSCASTER: He's got to be feeling on top of the world now.
PHIL PONCE: Since 1988, Gretzky has played in the United States, first with the Los Angeles Kings, and later with the New York Rangers. During that time, hockey's popularity in the US has grown, and the League expanded into cities that had not seen professional hockey before. Yesterday, Gretzky took the ice for the final time. During his retirement ceremony, the NHL, itself, took the unprecedented action of retiring his number. That means no other player, on any team, will wear number 99 again. After the game, Gretzky had this to say.
WAYNE GRETZKY: I was a boy that happened to love a game, and got lucky that the Good Lord gave me a passion for it. And I happened to follow some boyhood idols who were great NHL players and said many times, everything I have in my life I owe to the National Hockey League; wouldn't have anything without it.
PHIL PONCE: Joining me now are Steve Dryden, who is editor in chief of the "Hockey News," a leading weekly publication that covers the sport internationally; it's based in Toronto; and John Feinstein is a sports commentator and author of several books, his most recent being "The Majors," about the four major championships in professional golf. Welcome, both of you. John, for people who don't follow hockey, what set Gretzky apart? What made him great?
JOHN FEINSTEIN, Sports Author: Well, I think the best description I ever heard of him came from other players who said that when Wayne was on the ice, you thought he had eyes in the front of his head but on the sides and back of his head. He made players better constantly. The statistics that you come back to among all those records -- is that he had more assists setting up other players to score in his career than any other player in history has -- goals and assists combined, which is just -- it's like taking Henry Aaron's record of 755 home runs and somebody comes along and hits 1200 home runs. It's that kind of unbelievable statistic.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, he did that without being the biggest guy on the ice, right? I mean, he was not an imposing player as hockey players go.
STEVE DRYDEN, Editor-in-Chief, The Hockey News: Not at all. I mean, that's one of the great things about Wayne Gretzky is that it wasn't his physical gifts. It's really two things: His imagination and his passion that made him special. And if you look around, the other great players that have been there over the years, Meril Lemieux, Bobby Ore, and Gordie Howe they all had great physical gifts. I mean, Meril Lemieux was referred to by Gretzky as the most gifted player, but Gretzky surpassed all of them because he had those two things, imagination and the other thing he mentioned, the passion.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, I saw one description of Gretzky as being a Barishnikov among brutes. Is that a fair phrase?
STEVE DRYDEN: Well, he certainly did it with finesse. And I think that he was one of those that helped drag the game out of the Neanderthal period during the 1970's. And, I mean, he elevated the game in numbers and in performance and in style. And that can't be forgotten. There's a tendency just to think about his numbers because they are so overwhelming. But the way in which he did it is so remarkable that I mean, I think, that's a big part of his legacy.
PHIL PONCE: John, so he couldn't muscle his way around the ice. He had to finesse his way around the ice.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: That's exactly what Steve was saying, that he went around people and through people. And sometimes it seemed like other people, and I think the other important thing about Gretzky that should not be underestimated, because Steve right -- you don't want to overestimate the numbers as important as they are -- this was a guy who handled super stardom better I think perhaps than any athlete in history. The only other one I would put in the same sentence with him is Arnold Palmer and golf. He never complained about the autographs, about the interviews, about the waves and waves of writers, about being a role model -- he understood that was part of the job. That was part of his responsibility. Right to the end yesterday, when in his final press conference, he looked out at the writers at the finish and said "anybody got anything else" and then thanked all the writers -- how many athletes in history have thanked the media? Wayne Gretzky, to me, was almost unique that way.
STEVE DRYDEN: It's hard to fathom anyone being more accessible or more media-friendly or more fan-friendly than Wayne Gretzky was. It's not just the 20 years. It's really been since age ten that Wayne Gretzky has faced this. That's the big part of the story of Gretzky is that he did it right from age nine or ten when he became a big part of the Canadian consciousness. And it's surprising. You run into prodigies and they generally don't make it that far. But he did it from that young age and just delivered the goods all the way through.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, I read somewhere that even at age ten, he was practicing his autograph. Have you heard that too?
STEVE DRYDEN: That was a bit of a Gordie Howe story as well. Yes, he was working on that. His mother asked him one day what he was doing; he said exactly that, that I'm working on my autograph; I'm getting ready for the NHL.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, what did he mean to Canada?
STEVE DRYDEN: One more than people imagine. I think that's one of the overlooked parts of this story - we talk about the numbers, you talk about the MVP Awards, and the other things that he's done. What he did internationally for Canada was sensational. He led them to three Canada Cup victories, which is really the most important tournament over the last couple of decades. He led them to that game. In the first six tournaments that is he went into with Canada, he led the tournament in scoring. Just remarkable. I don't think there's anyone you can consider in the same breath in hockey, and maybe someone like a Bratislav Chercek, who was a great goal tender for the Soviet Union, but nobody quite like Gretzky. And I think that because the hockey is so important in Canada, that he became the face of Canadian hockey. And I think Canadians have take an great deal of pride in him. I mean, Palio was declared a national treasure in Brazil. And I don't know that that - that's not the same situation in Canada with Wayne Gretzky.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, besides his significance to hockey, one hears that in Canada, fathers would want their sons to be like Wayne Gretzky.
STEVE DRYDEN: Absolutely. In walking around Madison Square Garden, yesterday, I mean, it's not just Canadian fathers but also some of the fans over and over again were putting-- on cutouts, they were putting thanks for being such a good role model. But you're absolutely right., that's the way it is in Canada, that - I mean - and, in fact, I had an opportunity last year to take my nephew to a game after the Olympics and Canada had a very disappointing performance there. It was the New York Rangers coming to play Toronto. I had a chance to take my nephew. I wanted him to see Gretzky play against Maple Leafs. And I think that was his last great performance. He had three assists. And he owned the game. And it was really something to see how the building became his and the fans - the Toronto Maple Leaf fans were cheering for Gretzky, not their own team by the end of the game. But it was a very special thing and I was so pleased that I could take my nephew to see this and pass it on to him.
PHIL PONCE: John, what did Wayne Gretzky mean to hockey in the United States?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, he expanded hockey. Ironically, Canada has lost a couple of teams to southern climbs in the United States. Phoenix has a team now when they didn't have a team. Anaheim has an expansion team. They're in Nashville. He took it into the sunbelt when he went to Los Angeles. And the Kings became the team in Los Angeles. The celebrities all went to see the Kings, instead of the Lakers when Gretzky was there. And he made hockey a place -- the southern climbs a place where hockey could go. Not only that, but Steve's point about the role model-- I think that when you are a father and you want to point to an athlete and say this is the way to do it, it doesn't matter whether you're American or Canadian, you're going to point to Wayne Gretzky first and foremost because Michael Jordan, as great a basketball player as has been, has had some foibles off the court. There's nothing you can find in Wayne Gretzky's background that is less than sterling.
PHIL PONCE: Steve Dryden, what was going through your mind when you saw Gretzky circling the ice there yesterday in Madison Square Garden?
STEVE DRYDEN: Well, it was surprisingly emotional. I mean, journalists are taught to be stripped of that. But, as I said, I've been following Gretzky's career since age 17, very closely. And it was really something to see him do that for the last time. And it was a bit hard to accept that they weren't going to be seeing him anymore in large part because of what he did for the NHL, but also because, I mean, I'm acutely aware for the point be raised, that he's a big part of the Canadian culture.
PHIL PONCE: John, what does this loss mean to hockey?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, I think-you know, Steve mentioned that he brought hockey out of the dark ages, out of the Broad Street bullies age in the 1970's. Now, they've been in a period where scoring has gone down, the way the defenses are now. They need another artist like Gretzky to come along. I'm not sure exactly when he will, and yesterday really was one of those emotional, seminal moments that you remember the rest of your life and you kind of grab your kids and say "watch this because you'll remember this forever."
PHIL PONCE: John, Steve, thank you both very much.