Falling satellite slows down, Earth strike delayed

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“Keep in mind that we have bits of debris re-entering the atmosphere every single day,” Matney said in brief remarks broadcast on NASA TV.

In any case, finders definitely aren’t keepers.

Any surviving wreckage belongs to NASA, and it is against the law to keep or sell even the smallest piece. There are no toxic chemicals on board, but sharp edges could be dangerous, so the space agency is warning the public to keep hands off and call police.

The $740 million UARS was launched in 1991 from space shuttle Discovery to study the atmosphere and the ozone layer. At the time, the rules weren’t as firm for safe satellite disposal; now a spacecraft must be built to burn up upon re-entry or have a motor to propel it into a much higher, long-term orbit.

NASA shut UARS down in 2005 after lowering its orbit to hurry its end. A potential satellite-retrieval mission was ruled out following the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster, and NASA did not want the satellite hanging around orbit posing a debris hazard.

Space junk is a growing problem in low-Earth orbit. More than 20,000 pieces of debris, at least 4 inches in diameter, are being tracked on a daily basis. These objects pose a serious threat to the International Space Station.

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Online:

Satellite updates: www.nasa.gov/uars

Aerospace Corp: http://reentrynews.aero.org/1991063b.html

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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