Falling satellite fails to end civilization

Much like a Washington stimulus package, despite all of the hype and anticipation, in the end it failed to produce more than a few sparks and smoke. Though it was trending on Twitter for most of the week and was the subject of countless jokes on late night television, NASA’s abandoned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth this morning. The highest percentage bet was that it was going to hit the Pacific Ocean, given how much of the planet is covered by water. But failing that – at least in terms of the best chance of not hitting any people – it did the next best thing. It looks like it probably landed in western Canada.

NASA said its decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which took an unpredictable course as it tumbled through the upper atmosphere, fell to Earth sometime between 11:23 p.m. EDT on Friday and 1:09 a.m. EDT on Saturday.

“The precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty,” NASA said of the 20-year-old satellite.

There were reports on Twitter of debris falling over Okotoks, a town south of Calgary in western Canada, most likely satellite remains.

This episode brought back to light the ongoing debate about what, if anything, to do about all of the junk we’ve left in low earth orbit. There’s a lot of it, too… everything from lost tools, bolts and brackets to entire rocket booster stages. Various proposals have been floated, largely because most of these things are zooming around at thousands of miles per hour and could pose a significant hazard to space station workers or others. But with our apparent retreat from manned flight – at least for now – is this a big enough problem to be worried about?

Let’s face it… if you wait long enough, it’s all going to either fall back to Earth, most of it burning up harmlessly, or drift away into space. None of it has a hypothetical perfect orbit. Everything pretty much either has escape velocity or it doesn’t. (Heck, even the moon is drifting away. But don’t worry. It’s not scheduled to leave our orbit until roughly the same time as the sun incinerates our planet.)

Just to be safe, if you WERE hit by any falling satellite pieces, see your doctor immediately. Oh, and let us know in the comments section.

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David Strom 4:31 PM on November 25, 2022