Inside the 'unblinking eye' tasked with defending America in space
The U.S. military prepares for many battles, including ones that could extend into space. The Air Force considers space to be a war-fighting domain, just like air, land, and sea, but space is getting crowded and competitive, with more countries developing new technologies. The U.S. also tracks more than 500,000 pieces of debris – or space junk – that complicate operations in orbit.
Space used to be a safe haven, one that the United States dominated, but in the last decade Russia and China have caught up, creating a three-way space race. Now, as tensions with North Korea escalate, the U.S. military is preparing for a potential war above, reports CBS News' Bianna Golodryga.
When North Korea or any other country launches missiles, the airmen at Buckley Air Force base in Colorado are the first people in the world to know about it. They provide the U.S. and its allies with 24/7 surveillance of all missile launches around the world.
"It is a very demanding job. It's very no-notice kind of things," said Lt. John Stryker.
At 28, Lt. Stryker is among the oldest on the team. His squadron routinely practices exercises in preparation for a missile strike.
"We call the next person in the chain who puts together a site picture for higher headquarters and ultimately our country's leadership," Stryker said.
That chain of command leads to four-star Gen. Jay Raymond, the military's top space commander.
"We're doing a lot to prepare for a potential conflict that may extend into space. We do not want this war to happen, and one way to make sure that we don't fight this war is to be prepared to fight and win if it were to happen, and we are," Raymond said.
Ten countries, including North Korea and Iran, now have the ability to launch a satellite into orbit. Russia and China are developing technology that could blind or damage U.S. satellites.
"Our job is to provide that global unblinking eye to be able to detect and warn against those threats and be able to provide that to the decision makers," Raymond said.
Asked how confident he is that the eye will never blink, Raymond said, "It doesn't blink. It's always open."
That's partly because of giant golf ball-like structures that dot the Aurora, Colorado, skyline. Inside each of these weather-resistant domes, sits a 60-foot satellite dish that scans the planet for the most dangerous weapons.