Space Junk Spares D.C. Region

Saturday, Sep 24, 2011  |  Updated 1:35 PM EDT
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Images Around NASA Ames / Moffett Field

Image of a what may be a satellite piece streaking through the sky in San Diego Friday before midnight.

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A satellite that once relayed climate information to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt crashed through the atmosphere late Friday night.

D.C. and the rest of the continental United States were spared destruction.

The crash site for the 6.5 ton satellite could have been anywhere between latitude 57 north and 57 south, researchers predicted early this week, an area that includes most of inhabited Earth.

However, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite splashed down somewhere in the Pacific.  Although the debris trail may be as long as 500 miles, no reports have come in of pieces striking people, animals, or man-made structures.

The satellite, which ran out of fuel for its booster rockets in 2005, had been on a long uncontrolled descent back into the atmosphere.  NASA expected two dozen pieces of the satellite to survive the heat of reentry, although it was unclear on Saturday how many pieces actually fell.  Once through the atmosphere, the biggest chunk was expected to weigh 300 pounds.

There was a 1-in-3,200 chance of a person getting hit by falling debris.

In 2001, the 135-ton Mir space station crashed back to Earth, but that fall was controlled.  The Russian space station crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

Before you strap on your scuba gear to go looking for pieces of the climate satellite, you should know that you won't be allowed to keep any pieces.  NASA says it wants anything recovered from the UARS returned.

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