How do you stop a mid-range missile from obliterating your city or town?

Allison Loudermilk

This photo released by the Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency, claims to show the launch of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Shahab-3 medium-range missile during a drill at an undisclosed location on Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. Iran said it successfully

I admit it. When the headlines about Iran testing a mid-range missile came out today, I thought, sure, I know what a mid-range missile is. It's a missile that, uh, isn't short- or long-range but in the middle, sort of Goldilocks style. Actually, it's a missile that can cover 620 to 1,860 miles (1,000 to 3,000 kilometers), depending on the make and model.

The Shahab-3 and the Sejil-2 that Iran just tested both fall within these parameters, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The Shahab-3 can carry one warhead weighing between 760 and 1,000 kilograms, writes the Iranian news agency Fars. Iran doesn't have the capacity yet to equip the Shahab-3 with a nuclear warhead.

Enough about the specs. How do you stop one of these guided death machines if some country decides to fire one for real? Besides running for your bunker, you can always turn to your missile defense system, should the country you live in happen to have one.

A missile defense system, like the Star Wars program proposed by U.S. President Reagan in the 1980s, has two basic roles: detection and destruction. The detection part is accomplished by various sensor technologies, like satellites and radar, stationed in space and in strategic spots around the world. If you think like former President George W. Bush, then Poland or the Czech Republic are those strategic spots. If you're President Obama, however, various U.S. Navy ships stationed in the Mediterranean and North Seas pose better locations for defending against to missile threats. The destruction piece is accomplished by an interceptor missile that blows up the incoming missile before it enters your air space.

And that, along with gigantic infusions of cash and time, not to mention some serious political maneuvering, is one way to stop a mid-range missile from blowing up a neighborhood near you.

More missives on missiles at HowStuffWorks.com:

How Missile Defense Systems Will Work How Missiles Work How Bunker Busters Work How did the U.S. shoot down its spy satellite?