Chicken Little, beware. A satellite the size of a bus will fall from orbit and, for the most part, burn up on re-entry. The question on everyone’s mind: Where will it fall?
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid,” is what HAL 9000 said in the 1968 sci-fi movie 2001: Space Odyssey as he was being shut down. This is probably what ran through the data banks of the twenty-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) as NASA flipped the off switch.
Everybody from NASA, the UK’s Royal Air Force, and Russian Space Forces are tracking the satellite trying to predict where it will fall. According to Russian news agency, Itar-Tass, UARS is expected to fall above the Indian Ocean, but it’s still anyone’s guess. The precise location will not be known until closer to the actual time of re-entry. The debris field could be as long as 500 miles as UARS is expected to break into 26 chunks.
While nothing is expected to fall over North America, the actual chances of anyone on earth being struck are 1 in 3,200. Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is water, so there’s no need to worry about damage to property or people. It’s rare, but it does happen. One lady was hit by space junk in Oklahoma in 1997 and lived to tell the tale.
UARS is the largest NASA object to fall from the sky since SkyLab fell over western Australia in 1979.
Keep up to date on UARS’ re-entry at NASA.gov. Also, Gene & Julie talked to the falling satellite through a super special NASA uplink. Have a listen to what the satellite thinks about it’s fate.