This weekend, if you’re out and about enjoying the fresh air of our rapidly fading summer season, there’s a chance that you may be hit by a piece of America’s failed space program.
NASA, or what’s left of it after the US government’s continued callous cuts of already fairly minimal exploration budgets, says a satellite they launched in 1991 is about to come back down to Earth. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite or UARS has been losing altitude since 2005 and its reunion with Earth’s surface has been pretty much inevitable for awhile now. On Friday, the now irrelevant piece of 90s technology will collide with the ground.
As always when any satellite goes plummeting into our atmosphere it’s really not such a big deal. UARS is 35 feet long by 15 feet in diameter and weights 6 and a half tons, but most of that mass will burn up in the atmosphere on re-entry. Remember when the space shuttle Columbia blew up over Texas a few years ago? It’ll be a lot like that, except since this object is smaller and contains no heat shielding of all, the satellite’s disintigration should be far more complete and, of course, intrinsically less tragic.
That said, some if it will survive the fire of re-entry. They’re projecting 26 pieces of it, to be exact, with a total mass of around 1100 pounds. NASA tells Reuters there’s actually around a 1 in 3,200 chance that one of those pieces could hit someone, instead of landing in the ocean or somewhere uninhabited, as they expect.
To put that in perspective, the odds of getting a hole in one on a golf course are around 1 in 5,000. So if you see fire in the sky on Friday, make sure you yell “fore!” before getting under cover.