Let's control satellites

Friday, February 8, 2008

A U.S. spy satellite that has lost propulsion will fall to earth sometime in late February or early March.

The object will probably break up and rain down fiery debris over a large area.

A NASA spokesman predicts that there will likely not be anyone killed or injured. This prediction is based on the fact that more than 70 percent of the earth is covered by oceans.

In 1979, Skylab, a 78-ton abandoned NASA space station, fell from orbit in an uncontrolled manner. Its debris eventually dropped into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia harmlessly.

This was the probable outcome at the time but there was no guarantee at that time that the debris would not strike one or more population centers, causing many deaths.

The recent statement by a NASA scientist may be accurate but it strikes us as bad public relations and a bit insensitive to unapologetically try to downplay a potentially catastrophic event by simply saying it is statistically unlikely.

There may not be an easy solution to the potential lethal effect of satellites falling to earth. Satellites and junk left in space have deteriorating orbits that will eventually bring it to earth.

It is impractical to bring down objects in space shuttles.

Any attempt to explode objects in space would also be impractical and could actually increase the problem.

It is true that most naturally occurring objects that fall into the atmosphere burn up before reaching earth but most such objects are tiny.

Most of the falling stars that streak across the night sky are actually specks before entering the atmosphere. It doesn't take an enormous object to pose a potentially lethal threat.

Despite the difficulties in finding a solution, the world's space agencies, including NASA, need to take precautions against disasters.