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Little Likelihood of Being Struck by Space Debris Friday. . .But it Has Happened


In this image provided by NASA this is the STS-48 onboard photo of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in the grasp of the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) during deployment, from the shuttle in September 1991. The satellite is 35 feet long, 15

In this image provided by NASA this is the STS-48 onboard photo of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in the grasp of the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) during deployment, from the shuttle in September 1991. The satellite is 35 feet long, 15

NASA says the likelihood of the plummeting Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) hurting anyone is slim. The space agency says there is a one in 3,200 chance that one of the 7 billion people on the planet will be struck by the falling satellite. Since the 1950s, there has only been one confirmed case of a person being struck by space junk.

The U.S. space agency says it has no confirmed reports of property being significantly damaged or a person ever being injured by falling debris.

In fact, since the start of the Space Age in the late 1950s, only one person on this planet is believed to have been struck by space debris.
Lottie Williams has that distinction.

Back in 1997, Williams was out late at night in the midwestern U.S. state of Oklahoma. She says she saw a flash of light in the sky and later felt something lightly graze her shoulder. Williams looked to the ground where the thing fell, and she thought it was possibly a piece of a shooting star.

"You know, I was thinking I had something celestial, you know, and here I got something manmade," Williams said.

An orbital debris scientist at NASA, Mark Matney, says it was not a star but a bit of debris that had fallen to Earth.

"It was a piece of insulation. She was out jogging, and it hit her. That same reentry dropped two tanks over Texas," Matney said.

And, just as Williams saw lights in the sky that night, the same can be expected of UARS if it falls over land after dark.

Major Michael Duncan works at the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Space Operations Center. It is the division that tracks orbital debris, including UARS.

"Well, NASA predicts there will be a pretty good light show if you're in a place where you're able to see it. Depending on the time of reentry, as long as it's nighttime where you are, you should be able to see it. If it's daytime, then it's going to be pretty unnoticeable," Duncan said.

NASA expects 26 metal pieces of UARS which was launched 20 years ago and decommissioned in 2005, to survive the fiery reentry and make it back to Earth.

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