NASA’s satellite that died 38 years ago has returned safely to Earth.
The Department of Defense has confirmed that the Earth Radiometer Satellite (ERBS) re-entered the atmosphere off the coast of Alaska at 23:04 EDT on Jan. 8.
No damage or injuries were reported, according to the Associated Press.
This is not surprising since NASA said the odds of someone getting hurt are 1 in 9,400. But it’s worth noting that officials said some parts might survive a fall.
ERBS has had a long life. It was launched in 1984 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, and was put into orbit by pioneering astronaut Sally Ride using the robotic Canadairm.
On this mission, her crew, Katherine Sullivan, became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk.
The satellite was supposed to collect ozone data for only two years, but it was retired in 2005, more than 20 years later.
The probe allowed scientists to understand how the Earth absorbs and emits solar energy.
There may not be many old devices falling to earth in the next few decades. The FCC recently proposed limiting the operation of state-owned satellites not in geostationary orbit to five years.
Current guidelines recommend derailing within 25 years. Future satellites like ERBS (which were in non-sun-synchronous orbits) may be retired long before becoming space junk, although there may be exemptions for exceptional cases.
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