UARS Satellite Falling to Earth - NASA Says Don’t Worry

by Lon Seidman | Sep 23, 2011 9:49am
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NASA Photo

NASA’s UARS satellite under construction prior to its 1991 launch aboard Space Shuttle Discovery

Given the odds you’re more likely to be hit by a bus than parts of a satellite the size of one, according to NASA. 

The space agency took to Facebook today to allay fears of a satellite making an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere today. 

NASA said although pieces of the large satellite (roughly the size of a bus) will survive burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere, the odds of them actually hitting populated areas or people are minimal.  Below is the NASA post in its entirety:

A few things about the UARS re-entry today you should know:

(1) “Flaming space debris” is a myth: Pieces of the satellite landing on Earth will not be very hot. Heating stops 20 miles up, cools down after that.

(2) Pieces of UARS will have slowed down a lot by the time they reach Earth: could be as low as 30 mph when they land.

(3) The chances that you will be hit by a piece of the satellite are one in several trillion. Very unlikely.

Scientists earlier ruled out the chance of UARS breaking up over North America, but are now saying there is “a low probability” debris could strike somewhere in the United States.  NASA will have better estimates later this evening.

The UARS satellite entered service in 1991 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.  Its mission was originally supposed to last only 3 years, but it ended up collecting data until 2005 - 14 years after its initial launch. 

Read about CTTechJunkie’s tour inside Space Shuttle Discovery

UARS’ orbital altitude has slowly declined over the years and it’s expected to finally succumb to the atmosphere later this evening.  While most of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere, a few pieces will survive, including titanium fuel tanks and a few other hardened components. 

Stephen Colbert has his own take on it:


NASA will be posting updates throughout the day regarding the predicted path UARS will take as it breaks up in the atmosphere.

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