NASA satellite returns to Earth after 38 years in space

NASA’s Earth Radi­a­tion Bud­get Satel­lite (ERBS), which has been active in space for near­ly 40 years, will soon fall from the sky. On Fri­day, it announced that the like­li­hood of ERBS debris harm­ing any­one on Earth was “very low.”

NASA expects most of the 1,500-kilogram satel­lites to burn up on reen­try. Ear­li­er this week, the Pen­ta­gon pre­dict­ed that the ERBS would re-enter Earth­’s atmos­phere at around 18:40 ET on Sun­day (approx­i­mate­ly 17 hours ET).

Despite its famil­iar name, the his­to­ry of the Radioac­tive Earth Observ­ing Satel­lite (ERBS) is far from boring.

Accord­ing to, the Space Shut­tle Chal­lenger deliv­ered the satel­lite into space in 1984, and just over a year passed before Chal­lenger’s trag­ic death in ear­ly 1986.

Astro­naut Sal­ly Ride, the first Amer­i­can woman to fly in space, used a robot­ic arm to release ERBS from the car­go com­part­ment of the Challenger.

Dur­ing the mis­sion, Ryde’s crew mem­ber Kather­ine Sul­li­van became the first Amer­i­can woman to per­form a space­walk. It was also the first mis­sion in which two female astro­nauts went to space together.

ERBS con­tin­ued to col­lect ozone and atmos­pher­ic data until 2005. Based on these data, I stud­ied how the earth absorbs and radi­ates solar energy.

The ERBS’ con­tri­bu­tion to sci­ence is all the more impres­sive giv­en that NASA ini­tial­ly envi­sioned only two years of operation.

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