NASA’s 38-year-old scientific satellite landed safely on Earth

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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