An old, retired satellite from NASA is expected to crash into the Earth this weekend, scientists at NASA said Friday. But the chances of the satellite hitting anyone are very low.
The majority of the 38-year-old satellite, which went up in 1984 on the space shuttle Challenger, is expected to burn up upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, according to NASA. But portions of it will likely survive and are anticipated to reach the Earth on Sunday night, with an uncertainty ratio of plus or minus 17 hours, as projected by the Department of Defense.
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The space agency put the odds of the debris from the 5,400-pound satellite actually hitting someone at 1-in-9,400.
The satellite, called the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, investigated how the Earth absorbed and radiated energy from the sun for 21 years. It also made measurements of stratospheric ozone, water vapor, aerosols, and nitrogen dioxide. It remained in operation until its retirement in 2005 despite its initial service expectancy being two years.
The ERBS carried three instruments: One measured the stratospheric components, and the other two measured the Earth’s radiation budget from the sun.
The satellite was launched from the Challenger by the first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride, who operated the space shuttle’s robotic arm. The mission was Ride’s second and last trip into space, and it also marked the first time two female astronauts flew in space together. The mission also saw the first U.S. spacewalk conducted by a woman, which was done by fellow astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, according to the Associated Press.
The Challenger famously exploded in 1986, killing its entire crew just 73 seconds after it launched. However, it made nine successful trips prior to its disastrous end and spent a total of 62 days in space, according to CBS. Its launch of the ERBS satellite occurred during its sixth mission.